10 October 2009 at 1:34:06 PM
Readers know that we are very much interested here in access to records that our taxes pay for. That's why, on a federal level, there is a Freedom of Information law (FOIA) and on the state level-the Public Records law. These laws guarantee that taxpaying citizens have access to records so that they know what their tax dollars are paying for. I will be posting sometime in the next day or so, video from the school board meeting in which open/public records were discussed. Here's audio, MP3 of that particular segment. Meanwhile, basically, there was a question on the agenda about whether to appoint a public information officer to handle open records and some other related questions and concerns about open records themselves came up. For one thing, over 70 requests have apparently been made in about a year's time frame to GRISD. One board member wanted to know if it was possible to know who made the open records requests and what they were. Of course! I've seen many times where asking for a list of requestors and what they asked for are part of a public records request itself. Here's an example from the Katy ISD School District, near Houston, where they post monthly logs of who asked for what. Wayne Rotan was asked on July 24 2009 if he would do the same.
Another time saver on open records requests would happen if you just posted the open records requests online so instead of having 3 people ask for the xyz, you only get one and everyone else gets it online because it has already been fulfilled and posted. Instead of printing it to paper, you print it to a pdf and post it.
At any rate, I thought it would be useful to use the times I myself have done a public information request as an entry point to a discussion (which, as I said, seems to be failing as I am unable to get the school board member to call me back). Understand that anyone who does a public information request does not have to justify him or herself as to why it is done and in fact, it is against the law for that person to be asked about why the information is wanted. That said, I've been very open here in this venue and so made a list of the requests, including any costs, that were done during the period of time the school board was discussing.
Here was a letter (actually a printed email but I didn't have the school board member's email address) that I gave to one of the school board members. Note that I asked for a telephone call back, and have left a message as well during this week, but have received no reply.
I wasn't at the school board meeting this past Monday but my husband was, and recorded it. I could tell by watching the last part about the public information officer that the school board doesn't seem to be very aware or involved with the state laws or processes regarding open records. If you'll indulge me, I'd like to use my own experience with the law, in connection with GRISD. First up, you probably know, and if you don't, this is the law, that one cannot ask why someone wants an open record done; the criteria is not whether it is beneficial or not, but rather that taxpayers can see records that belong, essentially, to them, with some exceptions, and there is explicit law and rules governing this. http://www.oag.state.tx.us/open/pia/pia.shtml
Here are some of the open records requests I have done during the time period in which over 70 requests were made.
August 26, 2008. I asked for an audio of the board meeting from August 25 and was told that even though the board had been recording audio for the longest time, they had decided not to do it anymore. I had previously been able to get audio, which I paid for, on a CD. The meeting I wanted to hear about was concerning the budget. Apparently this was some bad advice from an attorney. http://salon.glenrose.net/default.asp?view=plink&id=8179 What was a little disconcerting about it is that the stopping of recording audio was apparently done without the knowledge of the school board, and then, all of a sudden, we just happened to find out that, since we were recording the meetings after that, the attorneys changed their mind and decided, without any notice, to say they should be recorded again. http://salon.glenrose.net/default.asp?view=plink&id=9670
November 30-2008. I asked for the vendor file which is essentially a check register with the codes and accounts that items are charged to. I have been asking for, and getting these, periodically for the last couple of years, and this particular set was from May 20, 2008 through December 1, 2008. http://salon.glenrose.net/default.asp?view=plink&id=9422 Wayne Rotan and Judy Shipman both told me that they are going to begin putting the check registers online starting after the October 2009 board meeting. http://salon.glenrose.net/default.asp?view=plink&id=11065 -I'm sure that a part of the reason for this is so that they can plan for putting them online rather than getting a request. In any event, this is a good move and joins a wealth of other school districts who also put the check registers online. http://www.peytonwolcott.com/temp/CheckRegistersTexas_AL.html
Feb 11, 2009. I asked for a copy of the teachers' master schedule, what policy governed the extra time that high school teachers have off, and also copies of the log files that show when teachers come or goduring the day. http://salon.glenrose.net/default.asp?view=plink&id=10023 I was told by J Shipman that the policy that governs this is the conference time from the board book. But the conference time is for the FIRST 45 minutes and not the second off period that teachers get off. And it's not ALL teachers, but just high school teachers. So at this point it was not clear to me just why and who made up the idea to let teachers have two periods off instead of one.
March 16, 2009-I asked for a copy of Tommy Dunn's employment contract. I also asked for audio of the February 2009 school board meeting. We like to record the meetings and it's extremely easy to make an audio from our recording (takes less than 10 minutes) but I was told. http://salon.glenrose.net/default.asp?view=plink&id=10290
I will have to figure the cost. Doug has given me an estimate of 3 hours to make the DVD since students were recorded in the February meeting and their faces would have to be redacted. I will get you an estimate on both the audio CD and the video. You will need to tell me exactly what you want before we can proceed, after I give you the estimate to let you know the cost.
That would be 15 dollars an hour,ie 45 dollars to do a video. Here was the actual amount that was to be charged-I think I accepted, frankly I don't remember.
We were able to get an audio CD but it had to be extracted from a video so it was more complicated than just creating an audio copy. It took 2 CD's to create the February meeting. You will owe $2.00 for the CD's ( $1.00 each) plus $6.00 for the charge of making the CD and 10 cents for the copy of Tommy Dunn's 08-09 compensation plan. That will be a total of $8.10 for the request.
I frankly don't understand why it takes me 10 minutes or less to extract audio from a video, etc but the charge actually is not unreasonable.
April 15, 2009- I asked for vendor files and also transportation logs on who took out what vehicles. I had heard, and I think you did too, about an instance in which a sports event that had been planned was cancelled so that Mr. Dunn could use a vehicle to take he and some friends to an away football game. I wondered how the vehicles are allocated.
April 29, 2009. I asked about what the cost of the Promethean boards are.
May 11, 2009- I asked for credit card receipts for a 3 months span. I was charged for this (and gladly paid)
Estimated # of copies 224 x $0.10 = $22.40
Labor to pull statements 30 min x $15.00 = 7.50
Estimated labor for copying
information 1.5 hrs x $15.00 = 22.50
Overhead charges $30.00 x 20% = 6.00
August 5, 2009- vendor payment request and also copies of any emails sent by Dana R concerning the school board agenda. Basically, I was trying to figure out why, when every other government agency in this county and town has me on courtesy mailing lists to receive notices of the meetings before they occur, GRISD refused to do so. Finally, about a month ago, after I sent Mr Rotan a letter that I was going to make a grievance about this, he called me up and told me he was going to make sure he sent me notices as a courtesy. And he did, this last week. http://salon.glenrose.net/default.asp?view=plink&id=11158
August 19, 2009- I asked for a list of the National Merit Scholarship winners or finalists for the past 5 years. I paid $15 for this.
August 24, 2009. I wondered why in the world GRISD decided, for email requests to have the teachers do the searching for emails instead of having the IT department do a computer search. I also wondered why the school board, since this involves state law, didn't talk about this at a school board meeting. So that was a request. Because I asked for emails concerning this, the attorneys got involved and are asking the Attorney General for an opinion, even though it appears it is an attorney decision to have such a clumsy, time-consuming and money wasting procedure. http://salon.glenrose.net/default.asp?view=plink&id=11167
My second question involved Chet Edwards, who, in my opinion, kind of snuck into town. Rather than holding a town hall meeting, I heard he went to the school. So I wanted to know how far in advance, through email, he has made arrangements. THAT particular request was sent out to all the teachers for them to take time from their busy day to look for any emails.
And finally, I wanted to know, and I still do, why in the world the high school teachers have TWO open periods. In some cases, if you look at the master schedule, the teachers have the first or second period off, and if you combine that with a lack of apparently signing in and out, then who knows if they actually show up at the school on time? Also, I saw where at least one class had way too many kids and I know some kids were told they couldn't get into the class they wanted becuase there weren't enough teachers. So, you know, I wanted to know who decided that policy since it isn't written anywhere. I have had no success up until this point but SOMEBODY had to do that, right? http://salon.glenrose.net/default.asp?view=plink&id=11311
Frankly, on one of these last, the attorneys decided to ask the AG about whether they have to give me email that has the personal phone number of the sheriff in it, INSTEAD OF JUST REDACTING THE NUMBER. How much is that costing the school to ask the AG about such a ridiculous question?
So, Mr. XXX this makes, for me, a total of 18 requests during the time frame mentioned at the school board. As mentioned, one of these requests will no longer occur because GRISD is going to put the check register online. Another, which was about why I coudln't seem to get notification of board meetings, has been solved by Mr. Rotan. And I have been charged for a number of these requests, and you do not hear me here grumbling about this.
Here's the deal, though. The taxpaying public has a right to ask for public records and the recipient of the request cannot refuse to honor those except in certain circumstances, which most of the time require an AG opinion. What I don't understand, frankly, is why the school board is not more in touch with what is going on, particularly when you hold the purse strings. It appears to me in the case, right now, of having teachers do the searching for records instead of IT that this is gross mismanagement. In fact, I sent in a complaint to the AG about this, as I believe I shouldn't have to be charged for procedures that make no sense and cost more. I also don't understand why, if we're all concerned about our taxes being used wisely, teachers in high school have two off periods-one that the manual talks about and the other, who knows?
I may be wrong but it seemed to me that the board wanted to somehow cut off open records request. That can't be. If the school was a private entity, that could happen but it cannot when the public is involved.
Would love to discuss this with you and would appreciate an answer to my last questions as I truly don't understand why the board seems to know nothing of this? Please call me
And I say again that I would appreciate a call from that school board member, who is an elected official, accountable to the taxpayer, which includes me.
glen rose isd
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