News 5 Guardians

Sep 27, 2013 12:43 AM by Eric Ross

News 5 Guardians: School districts can't account for certain financial expenses

Beginning in August 2013, News 5 began requesting documents regarding substitute expenses and teacher absentee rates from every school district in Colorado Springs.

The only two school districts which complied fully with our requests were Harrison School District 2 and Academy School District 20.

News 5 had originally requested data on substitute costs and absentee rates dating back two school years. All school districts did comply with this request. However, Widefield District 3, Fountain-Fort Carson District 8 and District 12 could not provide absentee percentage rates. Widefield District 3 informed us further research on the subject could be done at a cost of $30 per hour. After speaking with management, News 5 declined to pay that rate.

News 5 then requested an approximate student enrollment number for each of the districts. All districts complied with this request.

At the recommendation of District 11 public information officer Devra Ashby, we modified our CORA request to include substitute teacher expenses dating back 5 school years. After analyzing data, we uncovered that various districts were pulling substitute costs from different departments. Some of the costs were including substitutes outside the classroom such as janitors, administration and librarians.

We then sent the following CORA request seen below:

**********************************************************************
COLORADO OPEN RECORDS ACT REQUEST:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

KOAA-TV News 5, the NBC affiliate in Colorado Springs, CO requests the following information be provided under the Colorado Open Records Act:

Topic: Substitute teacher costs and absentee rates:

Detailed Request:
*Dollar amount spent on CLASSROOM substitute teachers ONLY for the following fiscal school years:
NOTE: This includes anytime the teacher is OUT of the classroom. (Jury duty, personal illness, family medical leave of absence, training and development days, vacation, etc.)
*2008-2009
*2009-2010
*2010-2011
*2011-2012
*2012-2013

*Dollar amount spent on all substitutes (administrative, janitors, librarians, etc) for the following fiscal school years:
*2008-2009
*2009-2010
*2010-2011
*2011-2012
*2012-2013

*Teacher absentee rates for the following fiscal school years
Note: We are looking for absentee rates for LICENSED teachers only. These rates should factor in ALL absences including, but not limited to vacation days, illness, jury duty, medical leave of absence, and training and development days
*2011-2012 school year
*2012-2013 school year


As recognized by Colorado State Law, information pertaining to CORA requests should be provided in full within 3 business days pending any extenuating circumstances. If this data cannot be provided within this time frame, please contact one of the below station employees via telephone or email with an estimated time frame it would take to complete our request.

Regards,
Eric Ross
KOAA-TV NBC 5 Reporter
719-228-6280
eross@Koaa.com

Joanne Glamm
KOAA-TV NBC 5 Producer
719-228-6288
jglamm@koaa.com

*********END OF CORA REQUEST*********
Academy District 20 and Harrison School District 2 provided answers and expense reports for the above CORA. However, because other districts did not comply with our request or made certain information unavailable, we were unable to use that data in our news story and have decided to keep the information as a background reference.

Fountain-Fort Carson District 8 responded to our CORA request by sending the following email:

Date Received: September 18, 2013

********************************************
Eric,

As you know, Districts are not required to compile data to respond to CORA requests. None of this data is readily at hand. I have to access each year's database and query several different accounts or create reports to obtain the information you are now looking for. Since I had already responded to your first, second and third requests, I will not be providing any additional information on this issue.

Joanne Vergunst
Assistant Superintendent of Business
****************************************************************

Following this email, our News 5 investigative producer notified Joanne Vergunst that we needed a formal denial to our CORA request citing the exemption they are using to deny the information we requested.

We received the following denial email:

**************************************************************

Ms. Glamm,

The legislative declaration for CORA (§ 24-72-201) states: "It is declared to be the public policy of this state that all public records shall be open for inspection by any person at reasonable times ...." (emphasis added)

In addition, § 24-72-204 of CORA provides, in relevant part: "(1) The custodian of any public records shall allow any person the right of inspection of such records or any portion thereof ...." (emphasis added)

Section 24-72-205(1) provides, in relevant part: "(1) In all cases in which a person has the right to inspect a public record, the person may request a copy, printout, or photograph of the record." (emphasis added)

In laymen's terms, CORA authorizes individuals to inspect records that fall within the definition of "public" records and not otherwise excluded from inspection, and to request that copies of any such records be made at the District's standard per-page copying fee. CORA does not require public entities to respond to such questions or to create documents that do not already exist to answer questions.

I trust this is satisfactory,
Joanne Vergunst

**********************************************
Falcon District 49 did not have records available pertaining to substitute expenses for the following school years:
2008-2009
2009-2010
2010-2011

Falcon 49 public information officer Stephanie Wurtz broke Colorado state law requiring a response to a CORA request within 3 business days. They eventually replied and notified us the data was not available.

District 11 provided us conflicting numbers regarding subsitute teacher expenses and failed to call us back or clarify the data we were provided.

To view the full story:
http://www.koaa.com/news/news-5-investigates-millions-of-taxpayer-dollars-spent-each-year-on-substitute-teachers-in-colorado-springs/

 

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