The Board of Education on Thursday is expected to designate an open records officer to handle open records requests and confirm a process for paying for copies of records and time spent collecting open records.
The board is expected to designate public relations director Tina Duckett to the position. She would be in charge of receiving and replying to open-records requests and retrieving the records.
Schools Superintendent Cole Pugh said that open records requests last year took an estimated two months of time for two employees to complete. Even though the school system wants to comply with open records and be transparent to the community, the vast majority of requests came from a few people.
“It is not unusual in a school district - we have over 12,000 kids, there are 65,000 people here - people are gonna have questions and if they’ve got one, we want them to ask it and we want to answer it in a timely manner,” Pugh said. “The problem is when a very small handful of people ask 99 percent of the questions and file 99 percent of the open-record requests.”
To demonstrate, Pugh had two stacks about a foot high of papers and briefcases that he said were emailed questions, open-records requests and responses from just two people received over the last year. Pugh said the school system is obligated to respond to open-record requests, but not to general questions, although it continues to do so. However, he said the school system may need to discuss how to prioritize answering questions for the same people asking weekly, or even daily.
The move also will set a fee of $.10 per copy for any records received, a per-hour charge for the employee overseeing the review of records - with the exception of the first 15 minutes of work - and any other administrative fees incurred. The hourly charge is not to exceed the hourly wage of the lowest-paid full-time employee.
“She will be consistent in what she charges and how she gets that done,” Pugh said of Duckett’s designation. “… She will try to do that in a very timely manner.”
Board member Sheila Rowe asked school board attorney John Taylor whether there were any provisions in the state’s open records law that would give the school system reason to question any open-records requests that were perceived as “witch hunts.” Taylor said there are not.