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Public records must be more than just available to the public. They must be permanent and prominent in the communities involved.

That's why Illinois law requires government financial statements " from virtually all schools, townships, cities and counties - to be printed in local newspapers.

An attempt to change that law with Bill 4614 in the Illinois House may be well intentioned because of our changing technology and the ease of getting information via the Internet, but it is wrong.

The bill would permit schools to post their annual financial statements on the State Board of Education Web site instead of requiring them to be printed in a newspaper published within the district. It's part of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's "Less Red Tape" proposal, which should be renamed "Thwart the Public's Right to Know."

A second change would modify the categories in which school employee salaries would be listed. For example, instead of listing employees earning "under $15,000," the new scheduled would begin at "under $25,000." Each of the four steps would be increased, with the top being "$60,000 and over" instead of "$40,000 and over." This change reflects the increased salaries of school employees and makes sense.

But putting important taxpayer information, such as school financials, onto a Web site instead of providing it in a black and white, permanent record in a local newspaper sets a bad precedent. Both types of publications are ideal in lieu of throwing another obstacle in the path of the peoples' right to know.

School districts have to have these statements available for public inspection now, but they are rarely inspected because taxpayers who are really interested depend on their being published in their local newspapers, whether those newspapers are daily or weekly publications.

The newspaper versions are portable, and free from hackers.

Timing is important, too.

The traditional long lists of school expenditures are hard to miss in local newspapers. And based on questioning calls from readers almost every time a government financial statement is published, they get readership. Even if residents don't react, there is a certain curiosity about government spending. We only wish more people questioned the spending.

Legislators can change the salary categories, but should not permit schools to substitute online listings for annual newspaper publications.n; Burying information on a statewide government Web site does not serve the public.


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