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Goin’ Fishin’! An Occasional Look at Open Records Requests at DISD.

By William H. Majoros (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
By William H. Majoros (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

I filed Learning Curve’s first Freedom of Information Act request to Dallas ISD last week. I asked the district for the following information:

Any and all draft audits and notes relating to the ongoing audit of the DISD procurement process. The ongoing audit of procurement has been mentioned in public DISD board meetings.

I should receive a response soon. I suspect, by the way, that the district will tell me they’ve asked the Attorney General to rule as to whether such audits can be released under the Open Records Act. I should also point out that I suspect the AG will say, “no.” But we’ll see. I’ll have more about this request as it works its way through the process.

I wanted to tell you this for two reasons. One, I want you to see how much information fishing goes on at DISD. (Zac Crain wrote about this for the magazine a few years ago, and most of what he said then holds true today.) Two, if I’m going to criticize others for sending staff on multiple wild goose chases every week, then I damn sure better let you know when I’m asking them to do the same thing, and why.

Let’s look at the first point. At the end of this document (WIR_7-10-2014) you find the list of FOIA requests DISD is working on from this past week. (These can be found within the weekly reports the DISD board puts together.) My request was accepted on July 8, so it will show up in this week’s report. Have a read of it, and you see nothing that unusual: A lot of the DMN asking for a ton of records they’re entitled to review, most related to the firings of the 15 coaches that recently rocked the district. The Dallas Observer and other TV folks asking for a few things. Mike Mooney from D Magazine makes one request regarding information about the death that led to those coaches being fired. Mostly understandable stuff, although I think if you go back and read these week to week you get a sense for just how much time and money the district has to spend on this. There are some that seem overly broad to me — trying to fish with dynamite, as it were — and that’s probably why they’re still under AG review from way back in March/April. Some are so specific as to be highly entertaining to me: I’m anxious to find out, for example, what Matthew Haag finds in his request for “… memos, e-mails, letters to or from [Person X] and/or [Person Y] and/or [Person Z] which include any of the following phrases: [Person X], video, misconduct, investigation, food, cookie, or floor…”. I think I have video of that investigation.

You’ll notice I removed names. I know it’s silly for me to do so. They’re public employees, these are public records, and you can go read the names yourself on the doc I linked above. But highlighting those names gives me pause, because so many of these requests, you’ll see, never produce stories. This is an example of a request from Dallas.org. You can find the details of this FOIA request and the person who made it, but to me they’re not important. It’s just a great example of what I think is a simple witch-hunt. I’ve replaced the person’s name below with a more generic name. The person targeted in this request is a DISD staff person, someone who runs a department within the district but someone who is not well known to the average reader.

Copy of the following documentation for Batman: 1) complete work history including positions held, tenure (from/to dates), and total compensation paid; 2) expense reports, records, and documents related to expenses including receipts; 3) records of any payment or payments made to Batman, his companies (where applicable), anyone related to Batman by blood (consanguinity) within the third degree or by marriage (affinity) within the second degree in connection with expenses; 4) records related to any additional compensation paid which was not directly associated with salary; 5) records or statements related to expenses incurred and directly billed to the Dallas ISD (such as cellular phone bills or other items or services billed to the district); 6) statements for district credit cards or procurement cards, or any similar financial instrument with receipts, used by Batman or on behalf of the individual by another (such as charge made by Batman’s assistant, secretary, or other person); 7) travel reports, records, and documents related to travel including receipts; 8) records of advances or petty cash advances or cash advances; 9) records related to events, gatherings or meals, social or official, arranged for or funded by the District for the individual; 10) other bills, documents, records, notes, or memoranda referencing or recording any other expense incurred by the individual or on behalf of the individual to the District; 11) records, memoranda, copies of checks, agreements, reports, notes, explanations, justifications, details, and any other document or documents related to or discussing reimbursements made by the individual to the District or any agent working for or on behalf of the District; 12) records, memoranda, copies of checks, agreements, reports, notes, explanations, justifications, details, and any other document or document related to or discussing any other money or monies paid to the District by the above named individual, or any other individual on behalf of the above named individual to the District or any agent working for or on behalf of the District; 13) “front page information” from any report or any other document made or held by the Dallas ISD police department, or other document from any other source inside Dallas ISD referencing threat of violence made by Batman toward other employee of Dallas ISD.

So researching, organizing, and distributing all that information sounds like a good way for district employees to spend their time, no? I’m sure each and every one of us could withstand such scrutiny.

On to point No. 2: Why am I wasting district resources and time? Because I want the AG to rule on whether draft audits are public records. I think the answer is no, because they are drafts. These usually involve personnel matters. But maybe I’m wrong. I’d like to know. Because if drafts of internal DISD audits are public documents, then okay, we can start comparing drafts to final reports and ask what changed along the way. If they are not, well, I will find that very interesting. And I will have some follow up posts to discuss why that’s important.

In the meantime, I’ll post requests on occasion just to show you the heavy lifting DISD has to do to help reporters who are fishing for the next gotcha story. Now, this may be a totally necessary exercise. Also, I should say that I think the DMN does a LOT more examination of student outcomes than it did five years ago. But the flood of FOIA requests, most of which lead to nothing, does make me a little crazy. No way around that.