Jerry L Kellogg Sr
Gardner KS
According to information provided to me by a USD 231 official on August 16, 2012, the school district has received 28 Kansas Open Records requests during the last three years:
2009-10 – 2 Requests (2 individuals)
2010-11 – 4 Requests (4 individuals)
2011-12 – 22 Requests (4 individual requests and 18 from The Gardner News)
The USD 231 policy on Kansas Open Records Act requests, approved annually each July by unanimous vote of the Board of Education, states that the expense of copying open records shall be borne by the individual requesting the copies. Since the district received two requests in 2009-10, these charges have been steadily increasing.
July 7, 2008
• $10.00 per hour for employee’s time
• 5 cents per copy
July 6, 2009
• $10.00 per hour for employee’s time
• 5 cents per copy
July 6, 2010
• $15.00 per hour for employee’s time
• 25 cents per copy
July 11, 2011
• $15.00 per hour for employee’s time
• 25 cents per copy
July 16, 2012
• “Fully loaded hourly rate of the employee(s) or contractors involved in the production of the requested documents, provided that the District shall, to the greatest extent feasible, use the employees or contractors whose rate of pay will result in the lowest charges for the work, consistent with the skill and judgment required to honor the request, and determine the scope of appropriate redactions.”
• 25 cents per copy, “(up to 8½ by 14 inches). Oversized documents may be sent to a commercial copying service, and the requester shall pay the actual charges levied to the District for the copy.”
School officials have claimed these fee increases were necessary due to the extra burden placed upon district staff to service the 28 open records requests received since the 2008-09 school year.
In a published opinion, the Kansas Attorney General has stated that the Kansas Open Meetings Act and Kansas Open Records Act are laws enacted by the state legislature to ensure that all citizens can participate in our democracy.
These laws, the Attorney General said, “establish the legal requirement that the decision making of our public bodies remains open and subject to the scrutiny of our citizens.”
The law permits public agencies “to establish fees to recover their costs for gathering and copying records. The agency many only charge the direct cost for staff time to gather, review, photocopy and send records to the requester. The agency may not charge for overhead or indirect costs.”
Taxpayers have already funded the employee salaries, equipment and systems to produce and store these records. USD 231 does not own these public documents; it is merely the custodian of the original records.
I am upset and outraged by the school district recently charging The Gardner News $217.24 to provide 24 pieces of paper. That is equivalent to a full year employee earning $60,247 spending a full workday to incompletely service the newspaper’s request for an open record.
In my opinion, our school officials seem to be sending the message to average citizens that access to public records is being made increasing unaffordable in an effort to discourage future requests. In other words, please do not bother them to provide you with copies of records you have previously paid them to create and store. I have to wonder if USD 231 charges the Kansas Department of Education when providing records to them.
I encourage the Board of Education and school administrators to review and revise their policies regarding their transparency on all district actions, activities and reports, financial as well as educational. Citizens have the right to an unfettered ease of access to open records as well as public meetings.