I have my appointment to review records at TESD on my calendar, and I have filed for similar information from neighboring school districts. It’s important that I say this: I’m not doing this to go “gotcha” — but to learn answers to questions I want to be sure are asked. When I was on the school board, I asked questions regularly as part of the meeting. Now that I’m a member of the public, I only have an opportunity for public comment twice — before and after the meeting — not as the information is presented or disclosed. That’s fair, but given my background with the District, questions don’t happen that way for me — I hear and I react. So that’s why I’m going to look at the documents.
By the way — the links I am posting are to documents and sites with information that may be interesting to readers who may want to understand more about schools and open records. A Caveat: Our school district is about the very important work of educating kids, and I don’t want to waste valuable administrative time getting them to respond to my questions. I am not encouragjng people to file requests themselves. I am very familiar with the documents and the processes involved in developing them. That’s why I am posting my analyses and research here. I hope I’m getting answers that we all benefit from hearing.
Recently with the change in the law (January 1) the State Open Records office has suggested that local agencies should go ahead and use their website to post any information requested to keep the redundant inquiries from taking up too much time. (I agree with this but for a different reason: If someone has the record, posting it will allow others to review the record as well, and not rely on the interpretation by a 3rd party — even if that’s me.) Given the history of privacy issues, I don’t know if school boards are ready to do that — be that “transparent. ”
While education is about evaluating student performance to the tenth of a percent, it has been my experience as a board member and as a contract negotiator that people employed in education are very sensitive to scrutiny — moreso than most. We all know the heart of it — everyone went to school sometime in their life– so it’a a natural tendency to assume lots of knowledge about schools and how they should be run. That can get overwhelming when you are the professional — trying to get a job done. But it doesn’t mean that school boards should trend to rubber stamping or that constitutents don’t have a right to ask questions. Checks and balances work everywhere. Taxpayer advocacy is not without value.
We need to encourage our school board to stand behind their tough decisions — not try to hide them on the Consent agenda. The “consent” agenda was originally used to try to avoid the time-consuming and mind-numbing public reading of each routine administrative matter–one at a time. That was a good idea, as meetings went on forever while each routine item was processed. The problem starts when the consent agenda turns into the place where major policies or expenditures are officially “publicly” approved — without any discussion or deliberation. It is unfair to the public that are trying to follow along either at the meeting or on TV. If our school board believes that they are making sound decisions about employee compensation, adding staff,changing policies or reaching strategic decisions, they should read the motion aloud and vote on it in front of the public. No one needs to hear about paying the electric bill — but extending compensation plans, awarding across the board raises, deserves at least a public acknowledgment. Our administrators and teachers work hard — and if they believe they are worth what they are paid, they should stand up to it.
WORDS TO REMEMBER
“A democratic society depends upon an informed and educated citizenry.”
— Thomas Jefferson
Thanks for listening.