Some local school districts flunk public records audit
February 26, 2011
The San Luis Obispo Community College District and the Atascadero Unified School District received F grades for their failure to comply with the California Public Records Act, according to a report released Thursday by the nonprofit group Californians Aware (CalAware).
The two San Luis Obispo County districts join a majority of California’s K-12 school districts who received poor marks in the audit.
San Luis Joint Unified School District and Cal Poly passed the test scoring A+ grades.
CalAware began a statewide public information audit last fall of more than 250 public education agencies throughout California. The organization requested documents from half of the state’s 72 community college districts, all 32 university campuses and most of the 200 local school districts. Each institution was tested on its compliance with both the California Public Records Act and the Political Reform Act.
CalAware contacted the superintendent of each district and requested a series of documents, including the superintendent’s employment contract, the agenda and minutes of the board meeting where the contract was formally approved, and the most recent three account statements for the superintendent’s district credit card.
The superintendents were scored on their compliance with the law including whether they demanded identification or written request forms from CalAware, which used a pseudonym to appear as a member of the general public. In addition the quality and timeliness of response, copying fees and helpfulness were considered.
Of all the schools tested more than half of the K-12 school districts flunked the test, receiving the worst average score of the audit, 53.6 percent. Among the worst offenders in the report, the Atascadero Unified School District was docked for requiring identifying information or that a written form be used to make the request, which is in direct violation of the California Public Records Act.
CSU campuses, including Cal Poly, and Community College Districts, performed the best, earning a B average grade, thanks to the one-third of CCDs that performed flawlessly. Bringing down the average was the one-sixth of the CCDs that “failed miserably,” including the San Luis Obispo Community College District which provided all the documents requested but did not respond within the 10 day required time frame.
The UC campus system earned an F average grade for its response, according to the report findings.
CalAware says it was prompted to conduct the test in light of “corruption or abuse of office [that] has been a frequent topic of news stories and criminal prosecutions in state and local government” in recent years.
“The California Public Records Act has often proven a powerful tool for uncovering governmental or even private sector shortcomings ranging from the questionable to the criminal. Yet a report several years ago by a legislative task force concluded that the act remains toothless for want of significant penalties for non-compliance,” the organization says in the report’s methodology.
In addition to the compliance issues the audit revealed that these superintendents have consistently high salaries that promise to increase every year after annual reviews that are conducted behind closed doors, according to CalAware.
The organization also noted that the superintendent travel and entertainment spending evidenced by their credit card statements and reimbursement requests did not always seem to reflect California government’s economic reality.
The documents collected also shed light on “an alarming tendency among superintendents who book last-minute travel reservations, paying premium rates for doing so.”