By Manhattan Mercury, Aug. 29
We don’t blame officials in a number of Kansas school districts for being curious about why one or more legislators want records about certain contacts school personnel have initiated with legislators and statewide officeholders. We, too, are curious, even though the request hasn’t reached the Manhattan-Ogden School District.
The request, submitted in August by the Kansas Legislative Research Department, also includes school invitations to Kansas Board of Education members and even former candidates for state offices. Further, it involves any invitation school personnel made to them for the entire last three years, as well as two periods this year — Aug. 23-Sept. 30 and Oct. 1-Nov. 3. The request covers not just written invitations to lawmakers and candidates but invitations made electronically and even by phone.
There is no question that districts should comply with the request. They are public entities supported by tax dollars. As state Sen. Steve Abrams, who chairs the Senate Education Committee and is a former KBOE member, told The Topeka Capital-Journal, open records requests are an important part of the democratic process and are sometimes required by the need for transparency.
It isn’t the request — though we’d like to know more about it — that bothers us. What we find troubling is that while Legislative Research is making work for school employees at taxpayer expense in multiple school districts in the pursuit of government transparency, that transparency apparently doesn’t apply to the legislator or legislators who seek the information. He or she or they are unidentified. Legislative Research staff said they cannot answer questions about who asked the department to request the information nor the school districts involved.
Hiding behind Legislative Research in the interest of government transparency, if not downright hypocritical, is hardly admirable. Moreover, it fuels speculation that the request for information may be politically motivated. We would note that one of the periods for which information is sought covers the entire month before Election Day.
The person or persons behind this request would do well to come forward and explain the nature of the request and what the information will be used for.
As for why districts might extend the invitations, they include the reality that legislators control school funding. But elected officials also are invited to speak to students in government or U.S. history classes, judge debates or for a host of other reasons.
No doubt schools will dutifully record such invitations in the future.