At the August school board meeting, the public learned at the District has entered into contract discussions with the teachers. We were told that there was agreement on both sides not to discuss the negotiation. Neither the ‘agreement’ not its specifics was made public. Resident Neal Colligan contacted the District with a right-to-know request — hoping to find out more about the agreement and the bargaining framework for the teacher negotiations. Neal sent me the following for Community Matters:
I wanted to let you know that I filed a Right to Know (RTK) request with the School District on August 27, 2013, specifically:
I would like a copy of any and all agreements related to the Early Bird TEEA contract negotiations particularly related to the “ground rules” for the Early Bird talks. I understand that this will not include any employer or employee contract offers, that is and should remain confidential.
Again, thanks to Ray Clarke and his reporting on the T/ESB Board meeting. I could tell he was trying to accurately portray the Board’s announcement of the Early Bird negotiations and the specific phrases he used led me to believe they may have been part of a written document.
Rather than grant or deny this request, I received a 30 day delay based on: Legal review required to determine whether record is a public record. This was quite an odd response. Possibly my follow-up communication to the Open Records officer will help make my thinking on their response more clear:
Thank you for your timely response to my request. You’ve indicated that the document(s) that I requested do indeed exist which is a great start and not something that I had known for sure. As they do exist, I am even more anxious to see them in the public domain. While I understand the potential need for legal review “to determine whether record is a public record”; I do have an opinion as to the timing of that review which you have indicated will take 30 days (September 27, 2013). Certainly documents of this nature were constructed with legal review/input; meaning that the inside or outside legal team is already familiar with the nature and content of the documents. The delay here is only to determine if the documents in question are of public record. As they do not contain any actual negotiating points between the parties, I would think the determination of “public record” would be a quick call. To be fair, I am not an attorney so I do not offer this as a legal opinion but only one of common sense. 30 days seems awfully long for this review.
This contract which is being negotiated under a gag order is of paramount importance to the members of our community…it is the largest publicly funded workforce in our townships. Results of this contract will have a profound impact on taxing policy for years. The Board has stated its intention “To keep the public informed of the progress as it moves forward”. My request is simply to inform the public of the parameters involved in the formation of the “process that has been agreed to by the Board and each union” (both quotes form the 8/26/13 ActionLine posted on your website). Please consider expediting my request. In recent years, this Board’s actions related to (lack of) transparency have been brought into question several times on critical issues important to our citizens. The Board’s rhetoric is one of openness but there is an opinion among many taxpayers that this Board is not as open in communicating with the community as they have promised. Let’s turn the page on the past and start a process of inclusion with the citizens who are interested in these issues of local importance.
To date, I’ve received no follow-up communication from the District. A review of the District policy concerning Public Access to School District Records does allow for a maximum delay of up to 30 days for information requests. That’s what I was given but it doesn’t seem necessary in this case for the reasons I’ve cited above. I’ve also written to the members of the Board seeking their assistance in expediting this request.
Maybe your readers would have interest in this and you have my permission to print this if you see fit.
For the record, the District’s Business Manager Art McDonnell is the Open Records Officer — McDonnell is the one that responds to resident’s right-to-know requests. As follow-up, I note that Neal has contacted members of the school board in an attempt to expedite the right-to-know request. I am assuming that Board members have not responded to him.
I don’t understand why the agreement setting the negotiation ground rules between the District and the teachers union is not considered a public document. The negotiating ground rules were established and apparently both sides agreed — so why shouldn’t the public know the rules. We all want the negotiation situation to be productive but the community deserves transparency. The negotiating parties should provide the bargaining framework for the taxpayers.