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.”

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I think Cal Aware would be wise to file a couple of law suits against the worst of the worse and make an example of them. Atascadero has always been a serious violator including our city hall.

I had seen the Cuesta page a while back:

At the time I originally saw it, Cuesta scored an A. That page shows everything the same, including just one demerit for 10 points, but now it says “F.”

Sierra Joint Community College District gets a B instead of an F but it had two demerits compared to Cuesta’s one:

I have said this over and over; why is it that the administrations of school districts run themselves like little separate fiefdoms? Prop 13 forced school districts statewide to cut and cut and cut (arts, music, sports, etc., etc. ) but no where do we ever see reports of administrations cutting back or reducing staff. Public requests for records? “Maybe we will get around to it, and maybe we won’t”, or “sure, just fill out this forms in writing in triplicate, provide identification and maybe we will comply with what the law compels us to do”, no matter that such requirements are specifically not allowed. Every single school district in California needs to be audited, from the very smallest pre-school program all the way up to every university. Any district that provides any form of medical insurance to board members at a cost to the taxpayers needs to have that coverage canceled and any “unusual” expenses for anyone working in the administrations of such districts need to be scrutinized with a microscope looking for illegal or unethical expenditures. Biggest problem with trying to launch such an audit? The funding, of course; even though such auditors would undoubtedly recoup the cost of said investigation by unearthing lots of possible fraud and corruption, the upfront costs of such an investigation will most likely be the sole reason that it will never happen. Too bad.

Yep, you got that exactly right — both the need for it and the unlikelihood of it happening.