During his speech at a July 26 educational conference, (Gov.) “Walker focused on transparency as the way to hold schools and school districts accountable. The more information available, the better, he said.”---reported the Journal Sentinel newspaper ( See newspaper report Walker touts school reform).
OK. Let’s apply that to the New Berlin School District---
On July 23rd, I sent New Berlin Public Schools Superintendent Joe Garza an email stating:
Dear Mr. Garza, Custodian of Public Records:
The District of New Berlin reportedly lost many employees since July 1, 2011. I’d like to know how many and which employees won’t be returning when school resumes in fall.
This is an Open Records Request to inspect the records that name or identify the administrative and certified staff members who left after July 1, 2011 due to retirement, resignation, termination, permanent lay-off.
Please contact me in advance if there will be any fee for this service.
If you have any questions regarding this request please contact me at (my phone #) or by email ( my email address)
FYI: July 1 is the start of the District’s fiscal year.
And the District’s response---
Per your request, please find attached the list of staff members retiring or resigning from the district between January 1 and June 25, 2012.
Diana Hanson Secretary to the Superintendent School District of New Berlin
4333 S. Sunnyslope Rd New Berlin, WI 53151 Office (262) 789-6221 Fax (262) 786-0512
The email attachment consisted of only one page.
At the top were three sentences:
School District of New Berlin
Jan 1-June 25, 2012
Under that heading were 58 names listed in alphabetical order
That’s it?!!! That's the Districts response. Well, it's a far cry from being transparent!
Surely, a school district that touts “excellence” could provide more information to its citizens and a better response to an inquiry about staff departures than that.
Can you spot problems with the District reply to my records request?
- The District’s response only covers 5 months of the school year (Jan 1-June 25, 2012) and not the time frame I’d requested ( July 1, 2011—July 23, 2012 ).
- Only a Jan 1-June 25 retirement/resignation list of employee names was provided. However, my records request clearly sought the names of all administrative and certified employees who left the District after July 1, 2011—including any “let go” through lay off, termination/ non-renewal. And yet, the District’s response doesn’t even address that part of my records request. Come on, it’s not like the District never opts to end someone’s employment. One example: the District’s decision to privatize custodial services and lay off the District custodians. That situation was reported by the press. Don’t parents and taxpayers deserve to know how many certified and administrative employees the District lost since July 1, 2011 and who they are?
- The District response does not convey what role the staff members on the list it provided had in the District. I recognize the names of several teachers on the District’s list. However, I don’t see administrator’s names on the list—not even Blake Peuse, Tracy Hoppe, Tracie Fehrm, or Jo Boardman-- four we know left the District. ( See my blog It's Official: NB School District Loses 4 Administrators) Given that Ms. Hanson’s response to my record’s request does not even include the names of those four administrators who departed, I can't help wondering how many other administrative staff members have departed from the District.
- The list sent by the District is an undated document without a signature or reference to who compiled the data, when, why or for whom. For all I know, the District composed that record in response to my records request, hoping that it would satisfy me. But one doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to conclude the District’s response only partially fills my records request. I’d asked to inspect records that name or identify administrative and certified staff members who’ve left the District since July 1, 2011, but the District has not given me access to those records-- not even records involved in obtaining School Board approvals of the individual employee's retirements and resignations.
- The District has not communicated any reason for withholding access to the requested records. It has not provided an explanation for its incomplete response to my records request.
Perhaps I should remind the District again about Wisconsin Statute 19.31: Declaration of policy. In recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an infomed electorate, it is declared to be the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them. Further, providing persons with such information is declared to be an essential function of a representative government and and integral part of the routine duties of officers and employees whose responsibility it is to provide such information. To that end, ss 19,32 to 19.37 shall be construed in every instance with a presumption of complete public access, consistent with the conduct of governmental business. The denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied.
Wisconsin Statutes also state : Each authority, upon request for a record, shall, as soon as practicable and without delay, either fill the request or notify the requester of the authority's determination to deny the request in whole or in part and the reasons therefor.