USD 231 provides all the transparency money can buy.
After several residents complained regarding fees charged to provide copies of taxpayer-funded records, The Gardner News paid about $217 for a 24-page list. District staff estimated it took seven-and-a-half hours to produce the payroll report which lists base salary, position and days worked, but not supplemental pay or stipends.
The list had originally been requested by a senior citizen who said the cost associated with obtaining records was too expensive for many low- income patrons.
Without discussion and unanimously the board of education increased costs of records at their July 16 meeting saying an increase in the number of patrons’ requests was proving burdensome. Although the fee increase was included in the agenda handed out at the meeting to those who attended, it was not made public prior to the meeting.
Charging fees for taxpayer-funded copies is a discretionary policy, according to the Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s website.
Kansas statute allows government entities to recoup “reasonable fees,” and does not provide for a low-income exemption.
The new district policy could become a public relations nightmare for the district as patrons dig into their wallets and pool money to pay for public records at a time when the economy is struggling.
Many patrons appear to be concerned about the district’s recently lowered bond rating, spending practices and low cash reserves.
Government records are owned by taxpayers, and government entities are merely custodians. About 40 exemptions exist in KORA and protect individual privacy.
We’ve asked before, and we’ll ask again, why is USD 231 so obsessed with secrecy? What is free, and often online, at other districts is overpriced in Gardner-Edgerton.
While the new policy may appear punitive in nature, we have to wonder at the district’s efficiency if it takes seven-and-a-half hours to produce a 24-page incomplete payroll report, or four hours to print off a check/expense report.
We also wonder at a board of education that considers patrons’ requests as “burdensome,” especially at a time when many government entities are trying to encourage taxpayer involvement.
Again, we invite members of the USD 231 BOE to respond on the editorial page of this newspaper.
The complete USD 231 base pay list is available online at www.gardnernews.com or for those without internet access, during regular business hours at the newspaper office, 136 E. Main, Gardner.