Monday, July 21, 2008

Open Records Request on Open Records Requests

The Waukesha Freeman filed multiple open records requests throughout the area and made some startling discoveries on the variety of costs each school district or municipality charges for records. Some were easy and cheap, others were very cost prohibitive.

New Superintendent Todd Gray did admit that the $535 the Waukesha School District wanted to charge for copies of the existing credit card statements for administrators (remember former Superintendent Schmidt had no idea what so ever how much the district charged on their credit cards) sounded high. The district normally charges 20 cents a page. In this case, they were also going to charge the Freeman $18 an hour to verify who charged what. Unless district policy has changed, outside of a per page copying fee for existing documents only research to create a new docuement was to be charged for. According to district administration 'in the past they get an extensive number of requests and need to charge accordingly." The Freeman issued an open records request on open records requests since Jan. 1, 2007. There were 52 filed, mostly by members of the WTL (that's me on behalf of the group--but I didn't do anywhere near 52).

Being a numbers person, 52 divided by 70 weeks (approximately 1 1/2 years) is approximately 3 per month. Websters definition of extensive: having great extent, vast, far reaching. Speaking for myself, I have sent in open records requests that requested 1 page of a document and have sent in requests for a copy of budget, teacher salaries, administrative salaries, qeo calculations, etc. Most of the time and eventually, I get them. Other times, I get frustrated and wait and wait and wait for things I know exist and are sitting in some corner collecting dust. However, sometimes I get a statement back like "There is no record of what tranches our trust fund is invested in" or "we have no accounting for our $2 Million+ early retirement expense in our budget" (that taxpayers pay for). Sometimes, when processing the open records requests, the request was taken extremely literally instead of by intent of the request, thus requiring a second request. If there is any question about the information the WTL has requested, just check Most of it is there and has contributed to some of the good things happening in the school district.

In comparison to getting information from the county or the city, the School District of Waukesha is awful. With both the county and city, I have gotten answers within 5 minutes of an email. When I email the school district with a question, I get form lanquage back that requests I come in and sit down with the administrator to go over whatever it is. The city even proof-read and put their seal of approval on the development feature (on our website). I for one hope that Superintendent Todd Gray takes the freedom of information via open records seriously and makes this user friendly because all the current system does is breed distrust, anger and frustration.