Sunday, August 21, 2011

Strange redacting of public records at SDUSD: Sally Smith and Emily Alpert given very different versions of records

Maura Larkins comment: It's no wonder SDUSD wants to charge for producing public records. It takes a lot of time to do all that redacting!

S.D. Unified to review public records policy following complaint
Parent was originally told she would be charged for staff time to make copies
Ashly McGlone
San Diego Union-Tribune
Aug. 19, 2011

A parent-activist who was going to be charged for staff time so she could see San Diego Unified Superintendent Bill Kowba’s calendar won’t incur that cost, after her story was highlighted in The Watchdog.

The district ended up charging Sally Smith $2.70 — 10 cents a page — for the cost of duplicating the public record.

Smith had been told she would be charged 10 cents per page “plus clerical time for the actual duplication, at a rate of $20 to $28 per hour.”

Typically, public agencies charge for the cost of making a copy, not for staff time to do so.

After The Watchdog highlighted the effort to charge Smith for staff time, the district backed away.

The district’s policy of charging for staff time in such cases previously caught the attention of the Sacramento-based open-government group Californians Aware. That fee contributed to the district earning an F in the group’s audit of public agency compliance with public records law, released earlier this year.

District officials said they will now review their copying rates.

“We are entitled to recover the costs to produce a record that is maintained in electronic form,” said Andra Donovan, the district’s deputy general counsel. She added, “In light of the concerns raised by the U-T, we will review our copying charges to make sure they are an accurate reflection of the direct costs of duplication.”

Additionally, The Watchdog compared the calendar provided to Smith with a calendar provided to Emily Alpert of and found that Smith’s calendar was incomplete and the redacting was inconsistent.

Alpert’s version included auditor visits, as well as cabinet, area superintendent and principal meetings, charity meetings, chamber of commerce and city events, select employee travel, sexual harassment training for a staff member, and media interviews — all of which were left off Smith’s calendar.

Meanwhile, Smith’s calendar included a carpool meet-up with the dean of San Diego State University’s College of Education and other employee travel redacted from the calendar provided to Alpert.

By law, agencies may withhold documents related to pending litigation and personnel, medical or similar files if disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

Told of the discrepancy, Donovan said the district will reproduce a more complete calendar and give it to Smith free of charge.

“We will also review our redaction policies to make sure we are consistently and appropriately redacting information,” Donovan said.

Smith, who wished to compare Kowba’s appointments with those of former Superintendent Terry Grier, said she was concerned about the district’s handling of her request.

“Californians Aware graded school districts across the state and San Diego Unified got an F, and I can see why. It is intimidating to go in and ask for public records and have to encounter so much trouble getting them,” Smith said. “San Diego Unified has to be more transparent and has to be open to requests and let the public see what it is doing.”

In 2009, The San Diego Union-Tribune requested copies of the calendars for 55 local government leaders, including Grier. The requests were all fulfilled with no fees.

District officials said budget cuts no longer allow for such freebies.

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