A request to see emails from Del Mar Union School District board members regarding trustee Comischell Rodriguez’s allegations in her letter of April 26, when she resigned as school board president, resulted in a folder containing 236 single-sided pages, only 16 pages of which marginally addressed the issue.

However, in the interest of full disclosure, some of the other items may be worth relating.

There were 34 pages of emails initiated by a letter from a DMUSD Sage Canyon teacher written to the full board on April 2. In her letter, the teacher complained about a statement written by the board to district staff after former superintendent Sharon McClain was released on March 31.

The teacher objected to the sentence in the statement that read: “We truly believe that threats of retribution and litigation do very little to unify our community.” That sentence was “a slap in the face” to teachers who have made no such threats, she wrote.

Trustee Katherine White wrote to the teacher, saying she had not seen the board’s statement, even though it was signed by the Board of Trustees. White then asked board president Rodriguez, who released the statement, for a copy.

This went back and forth for a bit, until Rodriguez said, “Yes.” White asked again, two days later. Rodriguez replied, “I sent to Dan. Ask him,” — “Dan” presumably meaning attorney Dan Shinoff.

White finally wrote to Peabody, asking him for a copy of the board’s letter to staff. “We (the board) have received a complaint from a staff member regarding the letter,” White wrote to Peabody. “I really don’t want to ask the staff member to send me the letter (I think it looks bad), and I think it would be cheaper if one of your staff could just forward the letter to you and the board versus paying Dan [Shinoff] to do this.”

White finally obtained a copy of the letter and was able to respond to the teacher’s concerns. But why it took her so long to get it is a mystery.

Another large chunk of material – 43 pages – had to do with feedback on unapproved minutes of prior board meetings and with changes in the wording on agenda items.

There were 33 pages about schedules and meeting times, 10 pages about website fixes and 16 pages of back-and-forth over one parent’s questions regarding equity among the district’s eight schools. There were seven pages of requests from the media asking for interviews, one of which went to White who wrote back that board president Rodriguez is the spokesperson for the district and should be the contact.

There was an email from a parent complaining about room parents being used to organize anti-board activities, a Public Records request for documents containing the words “head lice,” a broken pipe at Del Mar Heights School, the Wellness committee, North City West JPA meeting dates, a county education dinner, the hot lunch program, a teacher’s recommendation for a change to the kindergarten schedule, ordering a welcome plant for Peabody, the schools’ sound systems, the foundation’s progress report, the naming of Sycamore Ridge as a California Distinguished School, and other assorted matters.

As one can see, there is little here to do with the focus of the document request.

Aggravatingly, many of these pages contained multiple copies of the same emails, some sheets were included that had nothing on them except a page number, and all were printed single-sided. Also, nothing was redacted, so everything — as irrelevant as it all was — could have been transmitted electronically.

The Public Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act provide the public with powerful access to government information. Given cause to suspect questionable activity, everyone has the right to see what transpires in government and to monitor elected officials and public employees.

But those agencies we seek to monitor have an obligation to respond to such requests prudently, efficiently and responsibly. A PRA is not an open invitation for hired firms to rack up scads of hours and pilfer the public’s pocketbook perusing documents not even remotely related to the topic requested.

Wasting taxpayer dollars and resources is as serious an offense as hiding government documents from those who seek to review material that might reveal whether elected officials have violated an ethical or legal code of conduct.

I suppose it’s worse to be denied access to public documents than to be inundated with hundreds of pages of irrelevant material. But must this be the choice?

Related posts:

  1. EDUCATION MATTERS: More turbulence in little Del Mar
  2. EDUCATION MATTERS: An interview with the attorney
  3. EDUCATION MATTERS: Can we withhold judgment?
  4. EDUCATION MATTERS: Del Mar dominates local 2009 education stories
  5. EDUCATION MATTERS: Fees for public education

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Posted by on May 27, 2010. Filed under Archives, Education Matters. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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