Walter Hermreck
Guest Columnist
Recently I sent an email to the Gardner Edgerton School District requesting a public document called the SO-66 report. The Superintendents Organizational Report contains nothing ground breaking, secretive, or alarming. The report lists simple data such as enrollment numbers by grade, district population, and number of staff and personnel employed by the District. The report is required to be turned in to the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) by each district no later than Oct. 10. After Oct. 10, I requested the report from USD 231 and this is where the problems began.
I sent three emails over a three-week period to the USD 231 records clerk politely requesting this public record. I sent emails on Oct. 10, 16, and 22. A day prior to my follow up email on the 22nd, I called the records clerk with a voice request. All of my emails went unanswered. At this point, I was feeling somewhat frustrated, but based on the secretive culture of our administration it was to be expected.
Wondering if this is some secret document that is difficult to locate, I phoned three other school districts with the same request. Two of the districts provided the document via email within the hour, and the third was emailed later that afternoon with an apology for taking so long. (That email is from USD 232 and is posted in the link above) At this point, I forwarded my email exchange with the USD 231 records clerk to three board members and asked them for their assistance. I felt somewhat ashamed for our district because I had to take such a trivial matter to a school board member.  School board members are there to manage the students, the district, and a multi-million dollar budget, not to figure out how to get a public record to a patron. I will say that two of the three responded and attempted to assist me but to no avail.
Finally, I gave up on our district and contacted someone at the KSDE for assistance. When I asked her for the SO-66 for USD 231 her first reply was, “Well, do you know that you can just call your district and have them send it to you, it’s a public document.” I chuckled out loud as I explained my recent plight. As the call ended I looked at the time; six minutes later my inbox contained the ever-elusive report along with the SO-66 from another district.
Do those running our school district just not understand what a “public document” is? It is not the job of anyone in the school district to decide what public documents are available. A public document is…well, it is public, period…end of story.
Here’s the way I see it. A public record is just that…a public record. Regardless, how much of a control freak someone may be, they do not get to pick and choose who gets the information or how the information is used. It just doesn’t work that way, at least, it’s not supposed to in an open and transparent government. I believe the powers that be at the district office desire to give out only information that will be used in a way that benefits the reputation of the district. If the information does not shine a positive light on their performance they do not get to withhold that information. The public has a right to know. The public has a right to balanced information.
Gandhi said it best when he stated, “Truth never damages a cause that is just.”