Oregon to Audit School District That Sued Records Requesters
The Oregon Secretary of State announced he is planning to conduct a performance-based audit on the state’s largest school district after the district sued two people over their public records requests.
Portland Public Schools (PPS) filed a lawsuit in March 2017 against Kim Sordyl, a PPS parent, and Beth Slovic, a reporter for the Portland Tribune, to prevent the women from accessing public records they requested containing the names of PPS employees on paid leave, information the district has released in the past. Slovic previously reported one district employee had been on leave for at least three years.
“PPS’s interim general counsel, Stephanie Harper, rejected the request, arguing that the records are exempt from disclosure due to the personal privacy of employees, some of whom are put on leave for disciplinary reasons,” Slovic reported in the Tribune at the time.
Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson announced in September 2017 his plan to audit the district, saying, “We're going to give the district an opportunity to show that the criticism is unfair.”
“Richardson specifically cited the district’s decision to sue public records requesters as one reason why it deserves an audit,” OregonLive.com reported in September.
‘It Needs to Stop’
Sordyl says the district has a history of wasting money.
“Education reporter Beth Slovic ran a story on Portland Public Schools placing a counselor on paid leave for three years,” Sordyl said. “In juxtaposition, [the district said], ‘Teachers are being cut. We have few electives. Our buildings are not safe.’ Yet, our tax dollars are being wasted on incompetence, and hiding incompetence. It needs to stop.
“After PPS sued me, Slovic also revealed that a teacher had been on paid leave for a year, all while he was in and out of jail,” Sordyl said.
‘A Lack of Transparency’
Steve Buckstein, a senior policy analyst and cofounder of the Oregon-based Cascade Policy Institute, says government schools keep their records sealed in order to hide persistent, widespread problems.
“Because of a lack of transparency, corruption in the public school system is often hard to uncover,” Buckstein said. “It has taken years for Portland Public Schools to do so many things wrong that the public is finally aware that something is significantly wrong in the district’s culture. Suing reporters and parents to keep information confidential was one of the last straws.”
‘Secretly, Wildly, and Irresponsibly’
Sordyl said she hopes the audit will result in “responsible spending that improves education for students.”
“Through public records requests and advocacy, I’ve learned that our district spends secretly, wildly, and irresponsibly,” Sordyl said. “Friends and family of district administrators and board members are getting rich on no-bid contracts. Money is being spent covering up incompetence of district administration. Our tax dollars seem to be spent in a way that best benefits the adults, and adult advocacy groups.
“I want the audit to shine a light on this practice and to pressure the district to start redirecting the money to benefit our students,” Sordyl said.
Tori Hart (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Wilmette, Illinois.