'T' is for nice try

'T' is for nice try

School officials refute their failing grades on providing access to public information

By Jake Armstrong 03/17/2011

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The rays of Sunshine Week — the national open government and freedom of information initiative — have fallen on Pasadena-area school districts, and those who advocate for the public’s right to know don’t like what they see.
Californians Aware, a Carmichael-based nonprofit that advocates for better government access for the public and media, conducted a wide-ranging statewide audit of school and community college districts’ compliance with the California Public Records Act request and gave the Pasadena Unified School District an “F.” 
In fact, the PUSD did not receive a single point of the 100 points possible because district officials allegedly required auditors to use an agency form or written request, or required the requester’s identifying information, for the district’s most recent settlement agreement stemming from a tort claim — the precursor to a lawsuit — and related documents, the auditors stated.
But PUSD spokeswoman Binti Harvey refuted California Aware’s findings. “We do not require that it be submitted some particular way,” Harvey said. “What I can say is that we comply with regard to Public Records Act requests and we often engage our attorney if we have any questions. That’s our obligation and we do fulfill that obligation.”
Californians Aware conducted the audit at 194 school districts, 36 community college districts and 32 University of California and California State University campuses. Locally, the group gave an “A+” grade to the Arcadia Unified School District, an “A” to Duarte Unified School District and an “F” to Monrovia Unified School District. A total of 104 districts received failing grades, making the average grade for the audit an “F.”
The Pasadena Community College District got an “F” after having points deducted for failing to respond to the request within the legally proscribed 10 days. The Glendale and Citrus community college districts received “A+” grades. The average grade for state-run universities was a “C.”
Californians Aware auditors concluded that schools districts performed “far worse” than state universities, with more than half flunking the public access test. “Some required a request to be submitted only on their form, which asked for information on the requester, such as address, phone number, signature, and organization affiliation,” the auditors wrote. “What could knowing a requester’s affiliation have to do with responding to a records request?”
After 15 years of work to develop a California version of the federal Freedom of Information Act encompassing all publicly viewable documents, the California Public Records Act came into being in 1968. Each year in March since 2002, Sunshine Week enlists the public and media to stand up for their right to know.

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My experience with PUSD is similar, a few weeks ago a fellow design professional informed me that PUSD had sent him a RFQ for consulting services, referencing strategic planning and community engagement in Northwest Pasadena. My office is in Pasadena and we did not receive a copy of the RFQ. We were told by a District representative that firms that submitted for Measure TT projects were not invited to submit for this RFQ. Indeed, a former colleague from one of the short- listed firms, (from outside Pasadena) told me that his firm was invited to submit for the referenced RFQ. We have also contacted the District on numerous occasions regarding services we offer in strategic planning and community engagement.

We are a local firm, ably qualified to participate in such a process; our Measure TT RFQ submission and presentation certainly included our planning experience. Further, we subscribe to a number of marketing services that track RFQ’s for architectural services state-wide. None of these services were able to pull up this particular RFQ for us. In addition this RFQ was not listed on the Measure TT website. This doesn’t seem to comply with your goal of Transparency in your recently adopted strategic plan, “We encourage diverse input and differing opinions. We make our decisions openly. We make information easily accessible to everyone.”

A4E was sorry to have missed this exceptional opportunity to serve our community and our students. In districts throughout California and the United States, we have partnered in similar efforts that realized the transformational renewal PUSD envisions for this important project.

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