Thursday, November 16, 2006

Public records

I'm going to piggyback on Trent Seibert's Target 2 Report last evening on the unavailability of public records. Trent's report was following up on the Tennessee Center for Open Government audit done last year. After reviewing Trent's attempts at obtaining public records TCOG's Frank Gibson opined that governments still had a long way to go toward fully complying.

I've been struggling since my summer on the school board to get the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools Board of Education to provide legitimate and timely information for citizens and parents. I started my first Monday morning by meeting with Superintendent Pedro Garcia's cabinet and asking who had fallen months and months behind on posting the agenda and minutes to the BOE website. I followed up with providing Woody McMillan (spokesman) and Lance Lott (in charge of the web site) a list which Woody told me contained 20 items about the web site that needed improvement to make it more usable to mere mortals.

While on the BOE I would get an "Agenda Packet" the Friday or Saturday prior to the Tuesday BOE meeting. While I maintain the timing of its receipt doesn't allow much real investigation by any BOE member, let alone constituents, there is important information contained in it and I wanted feedback from my constituents. So I started to post large portions of the packet, and eventually entire packets, to this blog and my website. I got positive feedback about providing that information from parents and reporters. After leaving the BOE I did get several more packets mailed to my home and promised on 9/24/06 to continue that practice for as long as I received these packets. Since I wasn't able to persuade MNPS to do this I would do it myself. Well, all that has apparently come to an end.

Since leaving the board I've been told specifically by MNPS Spokesman Woody McMillan that any questions I have about the agenda should be directed to the BOE Secretary. And so when I got the 10/24/06 agenda it contained a note on bright purple paper saying:

This is the last Board Agenda that will be U.S. mailed. The agenda will be posted on the MNPS website at when it is delivered to the Board of Education.
Full agenda packets will be available in the Board Administrator's office at 2601 Bransford Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee, 37204 if you prefer to pick one up. 10/22/06 blog post

Keep in mind the agenda in that packet was the larger "Agenda Packet" not the wimpy two pager. I sent an e-mail to the BOE secretary:
I got the agenda packet for 10/24/06 and couldn't miss the purple note. My question is is the agenda that will uploaded to the website be the same as always has been uploaded (literally just the agenda) or will that also include the entire packet--which is so much more helpful?

If it doesn't include the entire packet--how can I obtain those? Does this mean I'll have to come down to the office to pick up a copy and when would those be available?

Is there any chance y'all are creating an e-mail subscription list for a .pdf version of the entire packet?
I never received a response.

What is being posted to the MNPS website is that insufficient 2 page agenda with no legitimate information whatsoever. And they have again fallen behind in posting even those agenda and the minutes of past meetings.

My assumption is that the BOE is not committed to even minimal communication with the very people that are charged with voting for them, providing the money for their salaries or subjecting their children to their oversight. These are the folks that seriously suggested that they approach the Tennessee Legislature to keep more of their meetings private. I maintain, again, that these folks need more sunshine--not less.

1 comment:

Alan Coverstone said...

I couldn't agree more. In fact, since the teachers' union rejected the pay for performance plan, I have had a hard time finding much of any difference between your comments and my opinions on this site. The lack of transparency is another serious problem for the District, and it can be extremely discouraging for private sector individuals who want to get involved/help with public education. Whether those are the benefactors of the pay for performance plan or the supporters of the exciting new charter school, LEAD Academy, I only hope that they will keep trying to help by partnering with the District to improve educational outcomes for students. So far, the District has not proven to be a strong partner in these efforts.

Alan Coverstone