It’s good that the USD 231 administrative staff and school attorney again reviewed the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA).
Both this newspaper and patrons have complained the past few years about exorbitant fees and a culture of control and secrecy.
It’s a bit disappointing the presentation seemed more focused on what staff couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do than focusing on the spirit of the law.
KORA recognizes public records are owned by taxpayers, with government entities as custodians. It suggests all records, with few exceptions, be made available to the public within three days of request. The statute does allow a “reasonable” fee.
With most entities, simple questions and information is provided without a formal request as a way to facilitate the free flow of information; however, USD 231 requires even simple requests be handled more formally.
Even a request for pictures of the Homecoming King and Queen, students of character or student actors in the school play now usually require a formal request and several days to receive.
Everyone suffers from this lack of communication.
The district’s policy has been the subject of discussion on more than one occasion:
• Patrons complaining about unanswered requests;
• Over charges – being charged as much as $15 to print a simple one-page e mail with no cost justification;
• Retention policy – emails being deleted after 24 hours, which flies in the face of KORA which allows three days for information to be supplied;
• Punitive/retaliatory/libelous actions – Printing patrons names for unpaid, unrequests KORA charges.
• Lack of arbitration process. There is no set policy allowing patrons to question the process. Although this isn’t necessary with most other government entities we’ve worked with, the arbitrary nature of USD 231’s policy makes it necessary.
So we’re glad the USD 231 board is interested in streamlining the KORA process.
However, we’re curious as to why the district administration pays an attorney $200-plus per hour to review the issue, when the Kansas Attorney General’s office, Kansas Association of School Boards, Kansas Press Association and several others routinely put on the presentations at little, or no charge.
The presentation was reminiscent of our children when they spend more time justifying, and rationalizing why they should NOT do chores than just hunkering down and doing the task,
Why take the money from classrooms to pay for an attorney and administrators to do a review when it can be had for free?
In fact, why is it even necessary for the board of education, attorney and high level staff to continually discuss KORA when it is handled so easily by other districts such as Olathe, DeSoto and Spring Hill?
KORA and the Kansas Open Meetings Act are governed by state statute.
Finally, after nearly a year, several board members directed – not asked – the administration to remove from the district website the name of a patron, who was unfairly demonized for making a KORA request.
And we agree with several board members: why did this simple issue take so long – and so much taxpayer money – to resolve?