LAUSD considers charging for the release of public records
Mike Szymanski | January 27, 2016
LA Unified receives fewer public records requests per year than other governmental agencies or school districts of similar size, but district staff is now suggesting that the board consider pushing for legislation that would set a fee for complying with some of the requests.
The recommendation came from Christine Wood, the assistant general counsel and litigation research coordinator for the district, at a Committee of the Whole meeting yesterday, as a way to match a policy other districts use.
The New York City Department of Education, the only school district larger than LA Unified, charges for the preparation of electronic records if it takes longer than two hours per request. In Houston, the district can also charge people who request electronic records, and the Miami-Dade County school district charges for time taken in redacting sensitive information from the records.
The LA Unified board isn’t scheduled to vote specifically on any recommendation, but the report put the issue of public record requests in a wider perspective for the board members.
With the collection of emails particularly time consuming, Wood recommended that LAUSD push for state laws that would allow them to have “different guidelines, especially a fee structure, for commercial vs. noncommercial requesters and passing along direct costs for the collection of electronic records, specifically emails.”
Most district records are public except ones dealing with students and personnel.
Last year, the district received 661 requests for public records. Typically, most come from commercial companies, lawyers, labor groups and average citizens. Media requests represent only 19 percent of the total and don’t get priority over any other requests.
“We had a period where we had a lot more requests, and that was during the iPad and MiSiS crisis was in the news,” Wood said. “We also get a lot of requests for attorney’s invoices.”
Other cities get far more requests than LA Unified, the committee was told. New York gets 1,000 requests a year, and much smaller districts like Houston and Miami-Dade get 700 and 1,600 requests a year. The City of Los Angeles gets about 1,000 public records requests a year while the Los Angeles County Office of Education gets only 50 to 60.
The staff dedicated to public records requests includes three paralegals, an administrative secretary and some law students and paralegal interns.
Wood also suggested that the district improve technological support for the requests, help the district transition to a cloud-based storage system to ease the burden of collection management, and post more frequently requested documents on the LA Unified website.
Board member Monica Ratliff said, “I’m very concerned about limiting access to the public records, but I’ve seen some good things come about it, and how things came to light because of these requests. I think that’s really important.”