USD 231 will no longer accept Kansas Open Records requests from individuals the district says owe money on previous requests. The district’s attorney, Joe Hatley, sent a letter to Walter Hermreck, Gardner, denying his Oct. 16 request for a form that specifies USD 231’s official enrollment numbers.
Hatley wrote that Walter must pay the district $122 for a request he made in September of 2012 before the district will supply him with other public documents. Hatley typically charges more than $250 per hour for his legal services.
“…It would make no sense that a public agency should be required to continue honoring KORA requests from someone who still owes the agency money for prior requests,” Hatley wrote in a letter to Hermreck. USD 231. “Therefore, it is my opinion that the school district may in good faith refuse to honor your KORA requests until such time as you have paid the amounts you owe.”
Without charge, the Kansas Department of Education provided Hermreck with Form SO 66.
Hermreck said he didn’t pay the school district’s $122 fee for a previous record, because the district supplied records he didn’t actually request. In an email to the district communications director, Hermreck inquired about the school district’s policies and procedures for handling activity funds. Hermreck did not use the district’s KORA request form, but in a return email, the district called his question an open records request and sought payment to supply the policy as well as other forms that Hermreck didn’t request.
Hermreck’s recent request for Form SO 66 sparked heated email discussion between board members.
Rob Shippy, board member, sent an email to Superintendent Bill Gilhaus asking that Hermreck’s request be fulfilled.
Gilhaus responded to Shippy’s request saying the district was spending too much time responding to requests from The Gardner News and Hermreck. Gilhaus carbon-copied all members of the school board, in many cases, not using their published district email account addresses.
“After discussion with the board of education, it was determined we would always attempt to meet any reasonable requests for information in a timely manner; however, not at the expense of losing focus of our student learning,” Gilhaus wrote to Shippy. The superintendent carbon-copied all school board members.
“I understand that you believe the information may not be used in a positive light for the school district, but it does not relieve the school district of the obligation to provide the public with documents that are of public record,” Shippy wrote in a response to Gilhaus.
Form SO 66 shows that the district has 80 more students this school year than last, an increase of 1.5 percent rather than the 3 to 6 percent increase anticipated during the bond issue campaign for new school buildings.
“If your intention was not to fulfill the request a simple email to him on how to obtain the document should have been provided at the very least,” Shippy wrote.
Shippy’s email also suggested that the board, at a future meeting, should discuss how open records requests are handled in the future.
Board member James Repshire responded to Shippy, saying the email made him angry.
Repshire wrote that Shippy does not have the authority to direct the superintendent to take action.
“Furthermore, from the perspective of a fourteen-year board member, I can tell you that if someone were to suggest that your antics are a form of ‘grandstanding,’ it would be difficult for me to defend you against such a suggestion,” Repshire wrote offering to meet with Shippy at a Baldwin City restaurant to discuss the topic personally.
Board member Tresa Boden wrote that she didn’t think Shippy’s email asking that the district give Hermreck the form was a “demand.”
“I did not read it that way initially, and I don’t read it that way right now,” Boden wrote to Repshire, copying other members of the board. “It was a polite request which Dr. Gilhaus has no obligation to fulfill… I do feel (Shippy’s) request would have been better stated as a question as to why the demand by Mr. Hermreck wasn’t being fulfilled, but I don’t feel what was typed deserved the tone of your email.”
Board president Mark Grannell wrapped up the thread of emails by suggesting that the board meet in executive session to discuss what information the district is obligated to provide to patrons, a history of issues the board has faced in the past and a discussion of how the board would like to proceed in the future.
The email string in its entirety, including Hermreck’s initial requests for board policies on activity funds and responses is HERE.