PLATTSBURGH — Holly and John Sims are firm believers that the key to a fiscally and academically sound school district is an informed and involved community.
“It’s when the community falls out of touch that things start going the other way,” Holly said.
For that reason, the Simses, taxpayers of Beekmantown Central School District and parents of two BCS graduates, established United for the Kids.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization strives “to increase transparency, accountability and long-term fiscal sustainability and solvency” in public school districts, Holly said, by providing taxpayers, parents and students easy access to information about their schools that isn’t otherwise readily available.
DIGGING FOR DATA
On the organization’s website, unitedforthekids.org, one can find everything from data regarding the student achievement and enrollments of certain area schools to documents pertaining to districts’ class schedules, finances and employee contracts.
“You can get this information if you know where to dig and dig real hard, but that’s the problem,” said Holly, who served on the Beekmantown School Board from 1998 to 2005. “It’s not easily accessible for the average parent or the average taxpayer.”
The Simses, along with other members of the group, have obtained some of the information directly from the districts via Freedom of Information requests.
“Part of getting the information is knowing what to ask for, how to ask for it and where to get it,” Holly said.
The organization also collects data from the New York State Education Department at nysed.gov and the National Center for Education Statistics at nces.ed.gov.
While United for the Kids first began with a focus of spreading district awareness within the Beekmantown Central community, the group has since expanded to include Plattsburgh City School District.
Information regarding both districts, as well as Peru Central School, is now available on the organization’s website, with more information about Peru expected to come soon.