District responds to gender-study-of-teachers public record request with cost estimate

If you attend/watch our district’s school committee meetings, you know that unfunded mandates is the biggest gripe among members and administrators. A big part of that is reporting requirements which drive administrative costs up. It’s something the committees have been lobbying to change.

So, it’s not surprising when to learn the Superintendent pushed back on a recent public record request to compile data on salaries by gender. According to Southborough Wicked Local, she wasn’t alone.

The article explains that a researcher requested records statewide. The state passed on the request with a warning. Districts that failed to comply by last week would have to undergo training in Public Record Law.

SWL reports that most didn’t respond. Those that did requested from $100-$3,000 for providing the data. Northborough-Southborough was at the pricier end of that range, at $2,625. But in the Supertintendent’s defense, our three district system (Northborough, Southborough, and Algonquin) complicates tracking the data.

SWL staff spoke to her: 

For their part, administrators said the data is tough to extract. In Northborough-Southborough, Superintendent Christine Johnson estimated it would take a clerical worker 102 hours. The request reached her office in early June – a busy time for the district – and it would require plucking and compiling data from three separate databases.

“My first thought was, ‘this is quite a significant request,” said Johnson, adding she didn’t know, initially, how to go about getting the data. She said the district is still committed to providing the information if the researcher is willing to pay for the hours.

You can read more here.

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Al Hamilton
6 years ago

My understanding of the public records law is that a governmental body is required to produce documents or reports that exist but is not required to produce documents that do not exist.

In this case, the proper response is to provide the raw data either digitally or in print format and say “The documents you requested do not exist but here are the raw documents/data that will allow you to develop the information you want.”

Frank Crowell
6 years ago

I wonder if a business is allowed to do the same thing? “We’ll be glad to provide you the data so long as you pay the admin fee.” I must be missing something.

Vern
6 years ago

An article in the Boston Globe says that the researcher was surprised that it was so difficult to collect the data, because many other states routinely do so today: “Price said he understood the request could cause hardships in many of the state’s smaller districts, although he added that he was amazed superintendents and the state were not already collecting the data. He said other states do.” https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/07/19/school-superintendents-get-lesson-state-public-records-law/eYFuKi5nukaZE1kx5ltMEM/story.html

I wonder why Massachusetts would not have access to this kind of data. I would think that in today’s day and age, it would be very relevant.

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