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Archive for Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Group criticizes Lawrence school district over open records request

August 28, 2012

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A group that criticizes school funding has filed a complaint with the Douglas County district attorney’s office against the Lawrence school district, saying that the school district has refused to comply with the Kansas Open Records Act.

In response, the school district issued a statement Tuesday saying it has appropriately complied with the request for information.

The Kansas Policy Institute said it requested under KORA payroll and checkbook information in Excel format, but the school district provided it in the more cumbersome PDF format.

“The expectation should be transparency and accountability, not obfuscation and red tape,” said KPI president Dave Trabert. “Why would a school district waste time and taxpayer money to make it difficult for taxpayers to see how their money is being spent?” Trabert asked.

KPI said receiving the information in Excel makes it easier to sort information while PDF makes it much more difficult.

KPI noted that a 2009 update on KORA by the state attorney general’s office said computerized information must be provided in the form requested if the agency has the capability of providing it in that form. KPI said the Lawrence school district provided information last year in Excel.

“We’re simply asking that government agencies be open with Kansans about how their money is being spent,” said Trabert. “There were over 33,000 entries in the Lawrence checkbook last year and asking someone to search those individually is being deliberately opaque in the face of a clear requirement in Kansas law,” he said.

KPI, which describes itself as an independent group that advocates free markets and personal freedom, operates the KansasOpenGov.org website which provides information on government spending. KPI is often critical of increases in public school spending and of school performance and has advocated for large tax cuts.

Despite receiving information in a PDF format, KPI said it was able to convert and post Lawrence data on its website.

Lawrence school district spokeswoman Julie Boyle defended the district’s handling of the records request.

“The Lawrence school district provided the information the Kansas Policy Institute requested in what is widely considered a universal file format for sharing electronic information across technology platforms,” Boyle said. “Adobe Portable Document Files (PDF) can be viewed by anyone, whether they use a Macintosh or Windows-based computer, through the use of a free PDF reader. Portable Document Files also can be converted, and according to KPI’s own news release, KPI converted the file to meet its needs,” she said.

Comments

Keith Richards 2 years, 3 months ago

Both groups acting like little kids bickering on the playground. Trabert should just give it up already and stop acting like such a whacko. 497 should have just handed over the file in Excel format as requested. They intentionally converted it to a harder to manipulate file because they disagree with KPI ideology.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 3 months ago

"Trabert should just give it up already and stop acting like such a whacko."

He's not acting like a whacko-- he is a whacko.

cowboy 2 years, 3 months ago

Dave Trabert , hired troll for the koch brothers wants his info and he wants it now. Purrumph ! You rec'd your data in a workable format , now shut up and continue your Koch work to damage public school funding.

Mark Currie 2 years, 3 months ago

I thought PDF was a more common way to share info, that way someone without excel would be able to read it. Why do so many people get off on bashing the school system? I taught in 497 for 30 years, and yes they aren't perfect, and some of the stuff they did ticked me off, but I wasn't about bashing them. Try being a teacher or para for awhile before you attack. Geeze.

NotRelated 2 years, 3 months ago

Because the current administrators are corrupt?

fiddleback 2 years, 3 months ago

How stupid of KPI to run to the D.A. with this-- you can find free converter programs online in 30 seconds. Next year I hope they give you twits a blurry .jpg.

KSManimal 2 years, 3 months ago

Yes, but how would simply converting the files themselves serve the KPI purpose of making public schools look as bad as possible?

Not that USD 497 ISN'T trying to keep their "we're pretending to be a bank rather than a school district" practices out of the public eye.....

Dave Trabert 2 years, 3 months ago

The payroll listing was easily converted to Excel but the check register layout would take days to put into a meaningful format. Payroll data for 2012 is at http://www.kansasopengov.org/SchoolDistricts/PayrollListing/tabid/1592/Default.aspx

The AG KORA update makes it very clear that government is to make the data available as requested. Filing a complaint with the DA is the only option available. USD 497 may not want taxpayers to have full access to the data, but that's why these laws are necessary.

fiddleback 2 years, 3 months ago

Yes, the only option available. I'm sure picking a fight with those wicked spendthrifts in Lawrence is pretty satisfying. Thanks for helping to keep our eyes on all the real villains in the public sector as our state races to the bottom. But never mind all that; I'm sure yours is a lovely exurban enclave, and the little Traberts go to a private school that, needless to say, is a model of waste-free fund allocation...

fiddleback 2 years, 3 months ago

No, it's not part of the actual law; it's an AG recommendation. Actual law is here: http://www.ksrevenue.org/pdf/kora.pdf I'm not supporting deliberate withholding, but we don't know that 497 is doing that; the excel version may have been missing. In any case, the issue has no legal traction, so KPI's retaliation is this bad press creating pressure for 497 to retrieve .xls versions in the future.

progressive_thinker 2 years, 3 months ago

That is a nonbinding opinion from the AG's office.

Actually, Excel is not a "format". Excel is a spreadsheet program, that uses a number of formats. One of these is .csv, which can be transmitted in the form of a .pdf.

If the school district transmitted data formatted .csv by way of a .pdf, they fully complied with the AG's recommendation.

Orwell 2 years, 3 months ago

Give Dave and Charlie a big kiss for me, Trabert.

progressive_thinker 2 years, 3 months ago

"The payroll listing was easily converted to Excel but the check register layout would take days to put into a meaningful format."

So why should the public be required to fund this conversion? It is KPI that wants it formatted differently. KPI should be the one to foot the bill for this work.

chootspa 2 years, 3 months ago

They could use the extra money the Kochs save on their tax bill to more than make up the difference.

chootspa 2 years, 3 months ago

Oh, they inconvenienced you for days in your relentless march toward privatizing our public school system. Oh teh horrors.

In other words, they did make the data available, and they did so in a universally readable format that kept the integrity of the data and didn't require taxpayers to purchase special software from Microsoft to read. They weren't withholding anything. You just want to whine about the layout. I hope next time they send you an Excel file with a giant, noisy .gif image of the data in a single cell.

cowboy 2 years, 3 months ago

So what are you looking for Dave , whats the purpose of your endeavor ? How much are you paid by the Koch's to rabble rouse in the State of Kansas and pursue the irrational agenda of the Koch's ? You are a simple influence peddler , and deserve to be treated as one.

Your activities are destructive to Kansas serve only to put more bucks into your wretched bosses pockets. Get saved , find a new job , do something that read well in your legacy.

4getabouit 2 years, 3 months ago

Here we go again. David the "right wing" lackey for the Koch boys goes after a public school for "hiding" information. Never mind the fact that his real boss, our rich and privileged Gov. Brownback holds secret meetings at his mansion to craft his agenda out of public sight. You see, the rules are different for these guys. There are no rules for them. They talk to God and feel they are the chosen ones. The end justifies the means for the privileged.

So, here we go again. The Koch's come after Lawrence once again. These guys will come after your schools, your money, and your sex life before people wise up. Put on your Brownshirt and Swastika David.....we know who you really are. The world has seen your kind before.

Dave Trabert 2 years, 3 months ago

USD 497 is not the only government entity attempting to make it difficult for taxpayers to access public information. The Hutchinson school district and Sedgwick County both tried the PDF-only response but eventually complied after reviewing the AG's finding.

Last month the DA in Wyandotte County intervened on our behalf with the Kansas City school district after they ignored our KORA request. The district is now providing the requested information.

Like USD 497, all three entities had previously complied with the same or similar requests with full cooperation. Some here may think it's going too far to ask a school district to comply with the law, but ignoring these actions would only encourage more efforts to keep taxpayers as much in the dark as possible.

I've said it on this forum many times but it's worth repeating: I'm happy to sit down in person or in a public group setting for an adult conversation with anyone.

fiddleback 2 years, 3 months ago

An adult conversation with a libertarian shill bullying school districts over file formats--yes, I'm sure that would be a worthwhile dialogue.

Listen Dave, allowing people to ogle public sector salaries and purchases in the name of transparency doesn't make you any paragon of virtue or soldier for democracy. To quote Brando, you're just an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.

progressive_thinker 2 years, 3 months ago

In case you had not heard, there is an "adult conversation" going on right now. It is being held at a courthouse in Topeka. Hopefully three judges will require that the Kansas legislature carry out it's constitutional obligation, despite the campaign of spin, cherry picked data, and misinformation from the legislature.

chootspa 2 years, 3 months ago

Since your biggest benefactors stopped being state taxpayers, that first sentence in your rant lost a lot of teeth. I'm just sayin'.

cowboy 2 years, 3 months ago

Dave , no one wants to talk with you. You are a paid minion of a bunch of rich white guys who simply want to be richer at the expense of the states they wield influence in. They use thier fortunes to create front groups such as yours that masquerade as "citizens " groups.

In the interest of openess which you seem vested in why don't you publish your salary , your front groups list of contributors and amounts , and the amounts you have given to political organizations , ALEC attendees , and your monthly check registers. Its the open thing to do.

cowboy 2 years, 3 months ago

which part of my statement is racist , look at the board of directors for his org , Rich white guys is a literal statement. Oh one rich white woman also.

tomatogrower 2 years, 3 months ago

Cowboy, dlkrm thinks that rich white guys are a minority that is treated poorly. Pity the billionaire.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

Hear hear for Cowboy!

Topeka,Kansas has been making it difficult for USD 497 and other public school districts. Public education is not evil. No we taxpayers do not want public education turned over to private industry and their reckless spending habits.

So what exactly is Sam Brownback looking for? What is this witch hunt all about?

tolawdjk 2 years, 3 months ago

When requesting data from a potentially hostile source, I prefer a PDF file. It is alot easier to maintain version control over a pdf and alot harder to manipulate that data after the fact. Not saying it isn't impossible to do it, just that a pdf shows that snapshot data better than something more fluid like excel.

You are paid enough to put what you want into a excel file if you need it that way. You are going to manipulate that data how ever you want to anyway.

aRobot 2 years, 3 months ago

I am not a fan of the Kochs, and I rarely if ever agree with Mr. Trabert's views. However, USD497 needs to be held accountable for the tax dollars they spend. USD497 also needs to follow the rules and the laws so that situations like this can be easily avoided.

Mr. Trabert, if you want to get a good idea of the wasteful spending, lack of oversight, and lack of transparency that currently exists at USD497 then I suggest you ask for the last ten years of receipts for technology spending including contracting and consulting fees and travel expenses. I think that people would be interested to see how the money has been spent, and also see whether or not the $8,000,000 technology bond from several years ago was used responsibly and effectively. I have a feeling it was spent in much the same fashion a lottery winner would manage their new found wealth.

Once again, I do not support what the Koch brothers or Mr. Trabert stand for, but I want public organizations to be held accountable for how they use available funding. Oversight must come from somewhere, and until USD497 abides by the rules and the laws we cannot trust that the necessary oversight will come from within.

boltzmann 2 years, 3 months ago

The question then is... do the rules require a specific format for data? pdf is a pretty standard format, so I really don't see how USD497 is not following the rules, unless they specifically state that they have to be in the exact format that the requester asks for, which I really doubt. However, I don't know the details of the law, so if anyone knows of any specific format requirements, then that information would be useful to the conversation. If is is required that such data be in Excel format, then USD497 should comply. If not, then they have done what is required of them.

Dave Trabert 2 years, 3 months ago

As explained in our press release, a 2009 update from the Attorney General's office requires that data be produced in the format requested if the ability to do so exists. USD 497 has provided Excel data in the past...they just refuse to do so now.

progressive_thinker 2 years, 3 months ago

"2009 update from the Attorney Genera's Office"?

Last I knew, the Attorney General did not have the authority to update a law. The last I knew, revising a statute required approval of a bill in both the house and senate, along with approval of the governor.

It appears that you are trying to mislead the readers by presenting an AG's opinion as the same thing as a change in the law. An AG's opinion does not change the law, and is not legally binding.

Nice try.

Katara 2 years, 3 months ago

Dave Trabert can not tell the difference between recommend and require. And we're supposed to believe he is someone we should listen to about education?

fiddleback 2 years, 3 months ago

No, digital formatting is not part of the actual law; it's an AG recommendation. Actual law is here: http://www.ksrevenue.org/pdf/kora.pdf I'm not supporting deliberate withholding, but we don't know that 497 is doing that; the excel version may have been missing. In any case, the issue has no legal traction, so KPI's retaliation is this bad press creating pressure for 497 to retrieve .xls versions in the future.

MarcoPogo 2 years, 3 months ago

USD 497 completely screwed up here - the PDF should have been in WebDings.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

Why? this is the question. What is Dave Trabert looking for?

Taxpayers have a right to know? Please offer straight talk detail.

werekoala 2 years, 3 months ago

Actually, I am pretty liberal, and I think the guy has a point. If it's a public record, it's a public record, and none of y'all should be cheering any action by government officials to conceal or obfuscate it.

While I have reason to hate the Kochs more than most, the Kansas Open Records Act doesn't only apply to people we agree with. And the attitude of "justify why you want it first" sounds just like every petty tyrant in history. Come on, guys, we're supposed to be better than that!

And having had to try to wrangle a PDF into Excel on more than one occasion, those conversions aren't perfect, even for simple spreadsheets. Start doing anything more complex, and it's a damn data-entry nightmare. So providing it in PDF when Excel is possible and requested is a dick move.

Now who knows how this all went down between Trabert & the District, and I would hope that he would have advised the District of the law rather than just running to the DA, but the law is pretty clear on this. Equal protection under the law isn't that hard, folks.

fiddleback 2 years, 3 months ago

KORA part IV section F: "Computerized information can meet the definition of a public record and must be provided in the form requested if the public agency has the capability of producing it in that form."

The question is, did they have that capability? Was the requested record originally in Excel, and was it retrievable in that format? Their past submissions would suggest yes, but it can't be assumed that they were capable this year. The excel version may have been deleted and only the .pdf saved. Or the excel version only resided with someone no longer working there. If they are deliberately withholding, they deserve the complaint, but the capability issue has not been clarified.

progressive_thinker 2 years, 3 months ago

What statute and section are you referring to? I do not find this language anywhere in the statute.

Thanks

progressive_thinker 2 years, 3 months ago

Thank you. Again, that is not a legally binding document, only a summary of their own AG's opinion.

fiddleback 2 years, 3 months ago

Good point; those are just guidelines; the actual act is here: http://www.ksrevenue.org/pdf/kora.pdf

werekoala 2 years, 3 months ago

What is your point, anyway? That since these are BAD GUYS it's ok to stymie them at every turn?

Until the Ledge takes a break from disenfranchising voters and stopping Sharia, the AG's opinion does have some effect; it informs everyone of how he is going to interpret (and if necessary, prosecute) the law.

Don't get me wrong, the AG is a douche, but this is a pretty "duh" point I really can't believe you are arguing. That means that if you want transcripts from a public meeting, or whatever, they can't just supply them in a format that is only readable in LINUX, in 6-point Cyrillic text. If you ask for it in WORD, or CSV, or whatever, they have to give it to you assuming they have the capability

Why are you arguing this?

progressive_thinker 2 years, 3 months ago

Public agencies are obligated to provide information, not to do research or special formatting. While I do not know what all of the issues are with the school district are, I do know that it is not always easy and practical to format something exactly as a requesting party wants it to be. In this case, the public agency provided the requested data using the world's most universal file format which is readable whether the end user has Linux, Unix, Windows, or McIntosh.

The issue here is that the request is for "Excel". Excel is not a "format". Excel is a spreadsheet program, that uses a number of formats. One of these is .csv, which can be transmitted in the form of a .pdf.

If the school district transmitted data formatted .csv by way of a .pdf, they fully complied with the AG's recommendation.

Dave Trabert 2 years, 3 months ago

USD 497 isn't saying they can't produce the data in Excel...only that they won't.

Dave Trabert 2 years, 3 months ago

We provided them with the AG's directive and asked if they'd reconsider before going to the DA.

progressive_thinker 2 years, 3 months ago

Last I knew, the AG's office did not issue directives. They issue opinions, which are not legally binding.

fiddleback 2 years, 3 months ago

So the digital formatting is not part of the actual law, and you have no legal recourse except to tell the D.A. and create bad press, thereby pressuring 497 to retrieve .xls versions in the future, correct?

They refused to offer an excel version, but didn't say whether it was missing and/or unavailable. So you assume they are withholding. Is there anything to stop them from doing this next year? I hope not, because this is a hilarious stalemate.

progressive_thinker 2 years, 3 months ago

It is hard to tell what all of the issues are.

My understanding is that the data is actually stored in some sort of a mainframe computer [like an AS 400 or the like]

Most likely scenario is that they can extract the data as a .csv file, which Excel can read. It can also be transmitted by way of a .pdf, the worlds most universal file exchange format.

The rub is that Trabert wants it formatted in a specific way. By his own admission:

"The payroll listing was easily converted to Excel but the check register layout would take days to put into a meaningful format."

What he is wanting is for the school district to expend a lot of time putting the information into a format that is easily compatible to API's propaganda. The Open Records Act does not require this.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 3 months ago

The probable reality here is that Trabert and AFP couldn't care less about the format-- they're looking for crap to throw against the wall against those evil public schools, and they'll happily do whatever they can to generate that crap.

Should public schools be as transparent as possible about how they are spending public monies? Of course. But when an organization such as AFP, whose only goal is to look for fodder in their campaign to abolish public schools, and pretty much every other government program, can you blame them for not going out of their way and spending a whole lot of staff time packaging this data up, with a bow, in exactly the format that's demanded of them?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 3 months ago

They did provide the information, (and providing such information isn't their only job.)

Regardless, that doesn't change my main point-- Trabert and AFP couldn't care less about the info, which they already have, anyway. They're just looking to make a big stink to show how evil the evil public schools are.

aRobot 2 years, 3 months ago

If people don't like the rules or the laws then they can work on changing them. In the meantime the rules must be followed. Are school kids allowed to disregard rules they don't fully agree with? No. The grownups at USD497 can either follow the rules or be held accountable for failing to do so. Opinions about the Kochs and Mr. Trabert have no relevance in this conversation. USD497 didn't follow the rules. Seems pretty black and white to me.

There are plenty of idiotic things the Kochs do and I love seeing people call them out, but this issue shouldn't be blurred by blinding opinions of hatred. Follow the rules or pay the consequences.

jafs 2 years, 3 months ago

As far as I can tell, there's no requirement in the KORA legislation that documents be provided in the format requested.

werekoala 2 years, 3 months ago

Sweet! That means Brownback's office can release info only on reused Bulgarian newsprint, in 6-point text with no line breaks!

Goose, meet gander.

Or we could behave like adults. That would be a nice change.

Glenn Reed 2 years, 3 months ago

Mr. Trabert,

This seems almost child-like... I'm not going to comment any one party's behavior on this particular issue. Well, other than to say that everything on kansaspolicy.org is in PDF format. Really annoying. I prefer reading .jpg files.

So far as the actual data is concerned... unless the formatting was inconsistent within the documents provided, a simple script could be written create a data set that could be imported into any spreadsheet program. You might consider having someone do something like that for your next witch hunt. Feel free to give me a call on that subject, if I don't have time, I'll point you to someone that does.

Witch hunting and complaining about formats are just means to an end, though. Neither makes you look all that great, but the end might be worth these means.

My problem is that I have no idea what your projected endgame is for public education. Aside from arguing for less public expenditure, there's not a great deal to go on.

So... What is the KPI's model for public education? What standard does your organization believe should be held in each subject? What subjects should be taught?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 3 months ago

Agreed, Glenn.

It's all well and good to complain about how money doesn't matter when it comes to education, but unless they come up with concrete proposals of what they will eliminate, then it's nothing more than ideological posturing.

Glenn Reed 2 years, 3 months ago

The odd thing is, Lat, the district complied with the request. I can't imagine anyone having a problem with a .pdf file. Feels more like showboating than making any real point.

On your other point, if an individual or an organization is seeking to affect public policy, then their motives are key to the discussion. Doesn't make a great deal of sense to suggest otherwise.

fiddleback 2 years, 3 months ago

Again, digital formatting is not part of the actual law; it's an AG recommendation. Actual law is here: http://www.ksrevenue.org/pdf/kora.pdf I'm not supporting deliberate withholding, but we don't know that 497 is doing that, as the excel version may have been unavailable. The issue has no legal traction.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 3 months ago

"Refusing to comply with the law makes 497 look bad. "

Probably the primary goal of the entire request.

This is almost certainly a request for information they know won't prove whatever point it is they want to make, but by bitching about the format, they make the evil public schools look evil.

This is first and foremost a smear campaign.

dlkrm 2 years, 3 months ago

"Oh, the school district should be able to do whatever it wants and the taxpayers have no right to question how their money is spent and the school district shouldn't have to comply with court orders and the schools just love my children, blahblahblahblah."

Brilliant left-wing thinking.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

I say the public school model is excellent and has prepared millions upon millions for college or community college or Vo-Tech. = Damn good tax dollar investment since 1820.

Vocational education is first funded when the Smith-Hughes Act passes in 1917. http://www.educationbug.org/a/history-of-public-schools.html

"Today, school choice, bilingual education, and testing are the hot issues being debated in communities, government chambers, and newspaper op-ed pages. These reform initiatives have lofty goals of increasing access, raising standards of quality, spawning innovation, and empowering students. But as promising as each of these initiatives may be, each produces unintended consequences, thus increasing the complexity of the debate." http://www.pbs.org/kcet/publicschool/

Richard Heckler 2 years, 3 months ago

The History of Public Schools in America

Hundreds of years ago, most learning happened at home. Parents taught their children or, if their families could afford it, private tutors did the job. The Puritans were the first in this country to point out the need for some kind of public education. They established schools to teach not just the essentials-reading, writing and math- but also to reinforce their core values.

After the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson argued that the newly independent nation needed an educational system, and he suggested that tax dollars be used to fund it. His pleas were ignored, however, and the idea for a public school system languished for nearly a century.

By the 1840s, a few public schools had popped up around the country in the communities that could afford them. However, that smattering of schools wasn't good enough for education crusaders Horace Mann of Massachusetts and Henry Barnard of Connecticut. They began calling for free, compulsory school for every child in the nation.

Massachusetts passed the first compulsory school laws in 1852. New York followed the next year, and by 1918, all American children were required to attend at least elementary school.

Next came the movement to create equal schooling for all American children, no matter what their race. At the turn of the 20th century, schools in the South, and many in the North, were segregated. The 1896 Supreme Court ruling, Plessy v. Ferguson upheld the legality of segregation. Finally, in 1954, the Supreme Court overturned its ruling with the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, and public schools became open to people of all races.

http://people.howstuffworks.com/public-schools1.htm

acg 2 years, 3 months ago

I send financial reports to people all the time, in my position, and it is customary to create in excel and convert to pdf so that people on the receiving end cannot manipulate the data in any way. Considering the guy who's requesting the data is a minion of some of the biggest money grubbing, dirty, rotten scumbags of all time, I see exactly why they sent it in pdf. Makes perfect sense to me. Sounds like this guy just likes to snivel.

jafs 2 years, 3 months ago

If that's true, then we shouldn't provide information in that form either.

It should be provided only in a secure form, so that nobody can tamper with the content and present it as if it's an accurate version of a government document.

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