Group criticizes Lawrence school district over open records request

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 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.