Leave it to bureaucrats who can’t seem to be creative about any other dimension of their jobs to be creative about ways to keep the public from finding out public information.
School system bureaucrats have now embarked on a plan to institute charges and fees for anyone – a member of the public, news media, educational or research organizations – that makes certain “voluminous” public records requests that cause the school system to have to cull through its records to be responsive to fulfilling the requests.
We readily acknowledge that we have filed public records requests in the past – not nearly as comprehensive or as often as we should have, but apparently often enough to have contributed to the oppressive burden felt by the propaganda machine at the school system’s central office.
Oh, the complaints about the difficulty of providing information to members of the public were just so monumental, according to the presentation this week.
Here’s the real problem, as we see it. There is far too much backdoor communication going on between and among school board members and bureaucrats in the school system.
They’re especially looking for ways that they can at least claim that the requested documents are not subject to disclosure.
So when someone, like this newspaper, asks to examine and inspect all such correspondence, school officials are woebegotten about how hard it is.
Here are two easy remedies: stop all the backdoor chatter through emails and texts and stop sharing confidential information in the communications that you do have.
School officials claimed this week that it is a terrible burden to have to review all the documents.
Oh, yes, well, we’re sure that takes the P.R. department away from its usual duties of spinning out as much propaganda as it can manufacture about the dismal academic state of the school system – and over the past six weeks, about the massive mold problem that school officials had allowed to metastasize into such a problem that the opening of the school year was delayed two weeks and that taxpayers will have to spend $22 million or more to fix.
Frankly, there appears to be a direct correlation between the growth in public records requests – both by this newspaper and other entities – and the secrecy and deception that ABSS officials have deployed to keep the public as ignorant as possible about the true state of affairs within the school system.
It is rich, indeed, that ABSS would penalize those who seek public information to compensate for this board’s and administration’s apparent refusal to conduct public business in public meetings as outlined in state law.
There seems to be almost an obsession with “back channel” communications going on between and among school board members and school system officials.
That’s readily available from the count the school system listed, for instance, for one recent request for documents from this newspaper – that the school system claims would require 150,000 documents from just one three-month period.
Here’s another increasing problem we’ve noticed: school officials will tell our reporter to “file a public records request” when we ask for basic public information, or follow-ups to a public presentation – information that used to be provided routinely by previous administrations. Now, it requires special access.
And we notice, just by the way, that in developing their new fee scheme, the school system’s bureaucrats paid little attention to the parameters and requirements of the state’s Public Records Law and court precedents associated with it, which makes clear that public records are supposed to be readily available and without charge.
We suppose this is all preliminary to finding themselves sued by various news or other organizations, that won’t put up with such attempts at censorship by fee.
Unfortunately, this and other misguided policies are emblematic of increasingly troubling board and school system leadership.