October 1, 2014

School attorney presents open records information

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.
Thank you.
And we agree with several board members: why did this simple issue take so long – and so much taxpayer money – to resolve?

Comments

  1. About time somebody took the reins from that mule headed superintendent. He and his fancy attitude need to go back where he came from. Take his two bit lawyer with him.

  2. At some point I have to wonder if the attorney representing USD 231 is being used efficiently. From my point of view it seems that instead of finding ways to operate within the statute or spirit of the law, he is being used to find ways to skirt the law or exploit the wording in a statute. At around $250.00 an hour I’m sure he is glad to do that for our Superintendent. But, is this what we want our district to be known for? Recently I received a letter from Mr. Hatley, I responded to his letter and received another letter from him concerning the issue of my records request. I had asked multiple times for an avenue to dispute this through the administration and have asked Mr. Gilhaus to fix it. Ultimately I was forced to get the board involved and they agreed that I was in fact correct. This could have been taken care of months ago but had to drag out because of vindictiveness in… my opinion. I would like to know how much it cost the USD 231 tax payers for the billing of what it took to look into the situation, write two letters, and communicate with the Superintendent about the matter. I would imagine everytime the lawyer picks up the phone the district gets billed.

    Is this the best use of our tax payer money at a time when we have gutted reading specialists and math specialists? Is this the best use of money when our Superintendent looks our teachers in the eyes and tells them he has empty pockets? If he has the money for frivolous things like this, then he has the money to ensure the kids that need the most help get that help and he has the money to retain our great teachers. This needs to stop now.

  3. We spend more time using the attorney to figure out what we DON’T have to give to the public instead of how can we work with the public. Why so secret USD 231? What are you hiding?

    I make requests in other school districts that I am not a patron of and they know that. I have YET to have an issue getting any documents from any other district and have seldom paid a fee because most of what I ask for is easily accessible.

    Why does our district have such an issue with transparency? Our district deletes email from their servers after 24 hours. Does that sound like a policy that maintains balance of records retention, open goverment and transparency?

    Why do we accept this?

  4. People are scared that’s why they don’t talk. Everybody in town is either related or knows somebody works there. Some of those people are second or third generation. They got a lawyer in the hip pocket; who has the money to fight that. They say it all went to the devil when they took prayer out of schools, but I say it got bad when they put that man in the boss chair. He has no morals except what he can buy with his wallet.

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