P  E  Y  T  O  N     W  O  L  C  O  T  T
How To File a
Public Records Request
The best and most
accurate and
effective way
to hold
your local school district
accountable is by filing
requests to see
public
records,
often also called
open records.

Unfortunately, most of us,
parents and taxpayers
alike, simply are not built
this way.  

As writer Joe Williams
says, "Nice parents usually
play by a more genteel set
of rules than the special
interest groups inside the
system."*   

When we go to our kids'
schools, our goal is to help,
to be part of the solution --
not the problem.

For myself, I'd been a
volunteer for almost two
years, seeing lots wrong,
before I realized that I could
ask about the district's
spending in this manner.  

Like most of us, I had
dozed through government
classes in high school
because they were
presented in such a dull
and boring way.  

Now, I find our sunshine
laws downright exciting.

Not only do I realize the
pivotal role they play in our
core governmental
freedoms but also I believe
that within public records
searches lies the key to the
implosion of our present
corrupt and ineffective K-12
public schools towards a
better and more effective
means of delivering
excellent education to all
children.

The truth carries a power
and energy of its own.
A FOIA by
any other name
At the federal level, public
records requests laws are
called FOIA--the Freedom
of Information Act.  But
you're going to be working
not at the federal level but
at the local or state level.   
One question, one school
district.

If you've not yet filed an
open records request (let's
use the acronym Eanes
ISD in Austin uses, "ORR"),
find out more about your
state's sunshine laws from
The Freedom of
Information Center at the
University of Missouri,
which lists each state's
sunshine laws:  
http://foi.missouri.edu/citelist
.html
Following an ORR through the
process--here's one example
ORR emailed to Round Rock ISD Dec. 1, 2005
Public records
requests basics

After you've looked
over your state's
public records (often
called "open
records") laws, the
next step is to
determine:

1.  Any special
wording required in
your request--do you
need to state that
you're filing a request
under your state's
public information
act, etc.?

2.  Can you file an
ORR by email?  By
fax?

3.  Are you required
to identify yourself
and/or your purpose
at the time of filing?

4.  To whom do you
address your
request?  In Texas,
it's the "Custodian of
Records."

5.  Can you be
charged just to view
public records?  If
so, how are the rates
determined?

6.  What can you be
charged for copies?  
For labor?

7.  How soon can
you see the public
records?

8.  Your district may
require you to fill out
an ORR form.  If so,
write in your name
and address, then in
the body of their form
write "See attached"
and attach your
request.

9.  
BE SURE TO GET
CONFIRMATION OF
THE DATE YOUR
REQUEST WAS
RECEIVED--THIS IS
WHEN THE CLOCK
STARTS TICKING.
 
Also, without a
receipt in hand, your
district may claim to
have lost your
request (this has
happened) and then
you have to start the
process all over
again.
To:  Toni Garcia, Round Rock ISD [interim sup't]
CC:  Lillie Delgado, RRISD [exec. ass't-sup't]
[NOTE:  I addressed my request to both individuals as RRISD
was in the process of hiring a new supe.]

Date:  December 1, 2005

Subject:   Query - [former RRISD supe and ERDI consultant]
Tom Gaul - AASA Convention - Feb. 2005 (Texas Public
Information Act)

Toni, I'd like to look at all receipts and all payments and
reimbursements including conference fees, hotel bills,
meals, mileage, parking, etc. for Tom Gaul for the February
2005 American Association of School Administrators
conference in San Antonio, Texas.  In other words, I'm
looking for the total dollar amount (plus components) that
RRISD spent on this conference for which Dr. Gaul was
reimbursed by RRISD.  

What's the best way for me to phrase such a request so that
producing the responsive documents may be done in the
cheapest, easiest and fastest way for RRISD?   I'm eager to
work with Round Rock ISD to make this as easy as possible
for the district.

Is there any way I could look at these in the next week or two?
I have to be in Dallas and Austin both next week and it would
be wonderful to be able to combine a viewing with the Austin
trip.  

Thank you so much.

Peyton Wolcott
OOPS.  
When I went to RRISD on Dec. 13 to pick up my documents,
they didn't produce the first item on my list-- the AASA
conference fees.  And they produced only one meal receipt for
a 3-4 day conference, which made no sense.  
     Then when I pointed this out Dec. 15,  RRISD sent the
following Dec. 16, 2005; it came from the legal assistant the
district had apparently appointed as my liaison:
FEES YOUR DISTRICT
CAN CHARGE YOU
In some but not all states, fees may kick for the
number of pages you ask to view--PER REQUEST
(one more reason to familiarize yourself with your
state's rules as fee milestones and amounts vary
considerably state by state).  

Here in Texas, for example, rather than file one
request to view an executive's expense reports for
an entire year, I will usually instead file twelve
requests, one for each month.  Unfortunately,
Education, Inc. has just pushed through a really bad
piece of anti-sunshine legislation, HB 2564, which
will stiffly increase fees school districts can charge
after only 36 hours per year--and the schools get to
determine when the 36 hours start.

Many school districts will produce way more than
you need then charge you for the extra pages
whether or not you need them.  For one recent
example, when I was going through a box of public
records at our state education agency on Feb. 7,
2006, I noticed several duplications--not only
duplicate pages within a set but also duplicate sets.
  

NOTE:  It gives me no joy to have to file multiple
requests in order to avoid overcharging by public
school districts and edu-agencies.  It also gives me
no joy that school districts are secretive about public
records of their spending of taxpayer dollars and in
many cases only produce such public records after
their dodges and delays fail.  Public records should
be organized such that they may be produced within
at most a few days of your request.  Period.
I received your email and will be following up when I return
from the winter break on January 3, 2006.
Sincerely,
Paula L. Florez, Administrative Associate
Legal Services Department
Immediately I emailed a follow up, to which Florez responded
on Jan. 6, 2006.  

VOILA.  There were no additional meal receipts, RRISD
said, but they had found the receipt for the conference fees,
and would mail it to me at no charge.

NOTED:  This whole exchange took about 6 weeks--not exactly
the sort of speedy reaction envisioned in the Texas' Public
Information Act, but at least RRISD produced the receipts
without involving the district's attorneys or trying to buy time by
going to the attorney general's office--another frequent dodge.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
When I went through the public records from RRISD, I was
surprised that RRISD produced a receipt for superintendent
Gaul's stay at the Marriott the weekend of the convention.
Why was this a surprise?  

Because I also have a photograph of Gaul (below) loading up
his car at a different hotel, one several miles away (the Hyatt
Hill Country Resort, which also happened to be the site of the
ERDI conference) the same weekend.  Trying to be nice (see
Tip 1 in "Practical how-to's") I sent the letter (below) rather
than an ORR.
HOW TO VERIFY YOUR REQUEST DATE
However you obtain it, you must have written
confirmation that your district received your request
on a stated date.

Hand delivery
Take your request to your superintendent's office
(your district's supe is generally your district's official
"Custodian of Records").  Although superintendents
may delegate the authority for public records, he/she
may not delegate responsibility, so I always copy the
supe on every piece of correspondence.  Get the
receptionist to date stamp your original and give you
back a copy.  

Fax
Follow up by email to get receipt date confirmation in
writing.

Mail  
Ask/pay for return receipt notification.

Email
Use whatever tools you have for receiving email
confirmation.
Jan. 16, 2006 query letter to Tom Gaul
now ass't supe at Baltimore County PS
(with fellow ERDI consultant, BCPS supe Joe Hairston)
Tom, do you recall how is it you
came to charge Round Rock ISD
for staying at the Marriott [in
downtown San Antonio] when here
in this photo...you are clearly
loading up your car from your stay
at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort
where as I understand it you also served as an ERDI
consultant?  Could you please help clear this up for me?  It
would appear from everything that has been published about
ERDI that ERDI consultants' hotel stays including meals are
paid by ERDI, which if it is true would mean that you stayed
and ate at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort for free and charged
RRISD for your stay at the Marriot for the same period.  Do
you recall how this chain of events came about, if I am
interpreting them correctly?

Also, did you turn your $2,000+ ERDI fee over to Round Rock
ISD or did you keep it for yourself?  This area of ethics has
been much in the news lately and I'm wondering if you have
any further comments on the appropriateness of keeping
your $2,000+ ERDI fee given that RRISD taxpayers footed
the bill for your attendance at the AASA conference and also
for your stay at the Marriott.

It may well be that there is a perfectly understandable
explanation for any and/or all of the foregoing and if so I am
eager to learn it.
The next step--although not necessary--is to
learn how your state's sunshine laws are officially
interpreted.  For example, although the Texas
legislature originally told governmental bodies they
had to respond within ten days to a request, by now
the ten calendar days has been allowed to stretch to
ten business days, which often means two weeks.  
In Texas, we have a 282-page book entitled, "Public
Information 2006 Handbook," which covers most
eventualities.

You're also going to want to find out what recourse
you have if your local school district or state
education agency doesn't respond.   You might be
surprised.  I would have thought for example that
Washington and California would have more liberal
ORR laws than here in Texas, but they don't.  

In Washington, your local district can ask you why
you want to see what it is you want to see.   And in
both California and Washington, your only recourse
if they don't produce is to file a lawsuit.  Whereas
here in Texas, we can go to our state's attorney
general's office and obtain a ruling.
STATUS:
No response received from Mr. Gaul
over one year later.
For more examples  of public records
requests,  Google my name with
"The supe stays at The Adolphus"
*
Remember

For you this is something driven by high ideals--and you're doing it for the kids
and taxpayers, for no financial gain.

You will be perceived by those in charge--
administrators and the board and those benefiting from aligning with them--
as going after people's jobs and careers and retirements.  

You're also going after the power that
people wield, and people with power
don't much like giving it up.

The degree of resistance with which you're met when you ask questions and start looking
for facts in the form of ORR's is simply more proof that--regardless of what they say--those
running public education are not doing it for the kids but for the money and power.

*

KEEP THIS IN MIND

I can't take credit for the origin of this insight,
which comes from a wise friend
(who wisely chooses to remain anonymous)
who cautioned me years ago:
 

"You're going after people's jobs."
 

In some cases we are--with wasteful high-priced
administrative positions--and in some we aren't.  
In either case, our public schools consider our
questions and searches personal attacks and
respond accordingly.

Be forewarned and stay positive.
*Cheating Our Kids : How Politics and Greed Ruin Education by Joe Williams.  Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan.

How we take back our children's education:
one person, one question, one school at a time.
F o c u s i n g    o n    a c c o u n t a b i l i t y    f i r s t :   
T h i s    i s   h o w   w e    t a k e   b a c k   o u r   c h i l d r e n s '    e d u c a t i o n   
O n e    P e r s o n ,   O n e    Q u e s t i o n ,   O n e    S c h o o l    a t    a    T i m e .
  Copyright 1999-2007 Peyton Wolcott

AASA - American
Association of School
Administrators

ASA - Association of
School Administrators

CSD - Consolidated
School District

DOE - Department
of Education

ES - Elementary School

HS - High School

ISD -  Independent
School District

JHS - Junior High School

MS - Middle School

MSM - Mainstream media

NSBA - National School
Boards Association

NSPRA - National School
Public Relations Association

PS - Public School(s)

SBEC - State Board for
Educator Certification

SD - School District

Sup't - Superintendent

TAKS - Texas Assessment
of
Knowledge & Skills

TASA - Texas Association
of School Administrators

TASB - Texas Association
of School Boards

TASBO - Texas Association
of  School Business Officials

TEA - Texas
Education Agency

TEKS - Texas Essential
Knowledge & Skills

USD - UnifiedUnited School
District
GUIDE
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Copyright 1999-2007 Peyton Wolcott
QUOTES


A Nation at Risk
(1983)

If an unfriendly
foreign power
had attempted
to impose on
America the
mediocre
educational
performance
that exists
today, we might
well have  
viewed it as
an act of war.

As it stands,
we have allowed
this to happen
to ourselves.

We have even  
squandered the
gains in student
achievement
made in the wake
of the Sputnik
challenge.

Moreover,
we have  
dismantled
essential support
systems which
helped make  
those gains
possible.

We have, in
effect, been
committing
an act of
unthinking,
unilateral  
educational
disarmament.

--A Nation At Risk
(1983)
Helping
parents &
taxpayers
implode
Education,
Inc.
ATTENTION EDUCATORS AND ADMINISTRATORS:
Every attempt possible has been made to verify all sources and information.   In the event you feel an error has been made, please contact us immediately.  Thank you.
POP QUIZ:

When you ask
to see your
superintendent's
last six months
of expenses,
does he/she
welcome you
with open arms?  

Or does his/her
secretary suddenly
treat you as though
you're storming
the Bastille?


My New
Book



By
PEYTON WOLCOTT
EVERYWHERE
any of us have
looked we have
found evidence of
waste if not
outright fraud and
theft.
The liberties
of a people
never were, nor
ever
will be,
secure,
when the
transactions of
their
rulers may
be concealed
from them.
-- Patrick Henry

KEEP IN MIND:
When you file an ORR, you're asking for a
paper record.  Your school district (or any
other gov't body) cannot be made to answer
your questions. They can only be made to
produce paper records. So you have to start
thinking in those terms.

EXAMPLE:
You want to know why your supe has thrust  block
scheduling on the unsuspecting kids at the high school.
---
You can't file an ORR and ask the supe why he/she brought
b.s. to the high school last fall.
---
You 'd ask to view any and all documents for the period
Jan. 1, 2004-Sept. 30, 2005 supporting his/her
decision to introduce b.s. to the high school in
Aug. 2005 (or something along these lines).




Improve
education with
local control,
accountability.

--President
George W. Bush

Friends, because
there's now so much on
this site--reports,
commentaries, book
excerpts, all designed to
help you bring
improvements to your
local schools--I'm in the
process of preparing
a site map.  Underlining
indicates active links.  
Please check back.


SITE MAP


NEW COMMENTARIES:
RANDOM ROUND-UPS

ACCOUNTABILITY &
OPEN RECORDS ISSUES:

School District
Checks/Check Registers
Online

Connecting the Dots

Pass the Trash

Reader Q & A's

SLAPP
(Strategic Lawsuit
Against Public
Participation)

Transparency Report
____

GOVERNANCE ISSUES:

The American
Superintendency

Team of Eight
____

Arizona
Nogales USD
Pima County Ofc. of Ed.
Santa Cruz County OE

California
Glenn County Ofc. of Ed.
San Francisco USD

Florida
Citrus County PS
Miami-Dade County PS

Michigan
Ann Arbor

New York
New York PS
Roslyn

Ohio
Strongsville PS

Texas
Bremond ISD
Cleburne ISD
Dallas ISD
Eanes ISD
Edgewood ISD
Everman ISD
Houston ISD
Katy ISD
La Joya ISD
Lake Travis ISD
Llano ISD
State Board of Education

____

Edu-Conferences
____

BOOK EXCERPTS:

Education, Inc.

How To File a Public
Records Request

How To Organize

Lax Oversight

____

WHAT OTHER FOLKS
ARE DOING:

MODERN MINUTEMEN

SUCCESS STORIES,
KINDRED SPIRITS
____

COMMENTARY
ARCHIVES
___

SPECIAL REPORTS:

TEXAS LEGE:
TEA POWER GRAB

PAYING FOR TEXAS
PUBLIC EDUCATION:
A PRIMER
____


About/In the News

2006 - Year in Review
MY BOOK

My recommendation:
Before filing your first public
records request, send a letter or
email informally asking for the
information you seek.  Not only are
you being nice, you're also
documenting that you attempted to
ask informally first.
Before filing your first public records
request, send a letter or email
informally asking for the information
you seek.  Not only are you being
nice, you're also documenting that
you attempted to ask informally first.