Answering questions from a local newspaper with a staff of approximately six people, shouldn’t cause trauma to a public relations professional.
But such is the case in the USD 231 school district. According their own records, The Gardner News has made 18 open records request in the last few months, approximately one per week.
Simple questions are met with half answers or none at all followed by notations that future requests may not be answered. Quite frankly, it’s some of the worst public relations we’ve ever seen, and that’s saying a lot considering a staff with more than 40 years in journalism.
We’ve said this many times before, but it appears we’ll have to continue saying it: Taxpayers own the school district. The patrons of Gardner-Edgerton USD 231 do not work for school officials. It’s the other way around. School officials work for us.
The records and information the school district retains and keeps is the property of every property owner and patron in the school district. Since we have a public relations or communications director with an annual salary topping more than $80,000 in our employ, it’s not too much to ask that our requests for comment be granted – whether they make the school district look good or not.
A recent example: The Gardner News called local school districts to inquire about federal changes to the school lunch guidelines. Students are howling; we’ve heard multiple grumblings from parents and teachers alike and concern over the issue is growing – Kansas high school students recently created a viral YouTube video documenting their disgust at the new lunch changes.
Communications directors in other districts put a positive spin on the questions reporters are asking saying students are learning to accept the changes and school nutritionists are working to create meals that students will like and that will meet the guidelines.
They’ve invited newspaper staff to lunch and encouraged reporters to talk to students, teachers, and nutritionists.
USD 231 officials said they haven’t heard a single complaint and that students across the district absolutely love eating their vegetables.
Anyone with a student in the district can see right through it, because they’ve heard their own children complaining. The food served in school lunches is a small concern for taxpayers – what kids are eating isn’t really the point of public schools – educating kids is. But if the district can’t be trusted to grant an honest interview about that topic, what hope do we have that they’ll shine the light on bigger concerns?
More engaged patrons is a good thing for the district – even if it means school officials occasionally have to answer difficult questions.
USD 231 should embrace more scrutiny, because it means the community cares. And that’s a positive story.