School Districts Should Follow Their Own Rules
I mentioned in my recent blog post about our curricula transparency project that a significant amount of the more than $800,000 price increase between this year and last year’s total payment required by districts came from three school districts in central Missouri. Those districts? Malta Bend, Blackwater, and Gilliam.
What I didn’t mention was that all three of those districts broke three classic classroom rules I’m sure their students follow (or are supposed to follow, anyway).
- Never copy your neighbor’s homework.
The letters sent by all three school districts in response to our request were very similar. Each cited the same list of terms and asked for similar amounts to provide records—Blackwater requested $207,584, while Malta Bend and Gilliam charged $196,908. In fact, the Gilliam School District sent us the form letter copied onto its letterhead but written as if it were from Malta Bend. Interestingly, all three schools are within twenty miles of each other. It seems like Gilliam, Malta Bend, and Blackwater might need to learn to keep their eyes on their own papers.
- Don’t start your assignment before you read it.
All three districts responded to a Sunshine Law records request in their reply to us, but they didn’t respond to ours. Instead, they each sent a form letter written in response to another organization’s request on similar topics, which asked the school districts to look for 78 key terms compared to our request’s eight. Malta Bend even neglected to change the name of the addressee in its response letter. It’s concerning that all three districts either didn’t take the time to read our request or chose to send a response written for a completely different situation, rather than understand our inquiry and provide a real estimate.
- Don’t wait until the last minute to finish your work.
Gilliam and Malta Bend both responded to our request on the last day allowed under the Sunshine Law. Maybe these districts panicked knowing they hadn’t studied for this transparency “exam.” Whatever the reason, mistakes were made as the response window closed.
In the end, after we reported them to the attorney general’s sunshine office, all three districts charged us nothing to inform us they had no responsive documents, and I had a useful conversation with the superintendent of Gilliam, who only recently assumed his position. To some extent, the unhelpful responses we initially received were understandable, since all three districts have two or fewer schools and, given their relative anonymity compared to big districts, have limited experience handling Sunshine Law requests.
Ultimately, Gilliam, Malta Bend, and Blackwater chose a fast, last-minute, and incorrect reaction to our request rather than taking the time to respond fully and accurately. Our districts and schools should hold themselves to a higher standard.