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Hoffman: Bonneville School District evades public records requirements

Hoffman: Bonneville School District evades public records requirements

Wayne Hoffman
June 18, 2009
Wayne Hoffman
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June 18, 2009

When government officials don’t return your phone calls, won’t follow the public records law and won’t follow their own internal policies, you tend to be a wee bit suspicious of their self-congratulatory claims of openness.

Bonneville Joint School District No. 93 has become the only government agency in the state to deny the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s request to receive a copy of district spending records, even though state law says the district must provide it.

On May 20, I asked the district to provide an electronic record of every payment made by the district for the last 18 months. The law gives government agencies three days to respond. On Day 5, Superintendent Charles Shackett wrote and told me in an email that I could come to Idaho Falls from Boise to look at the records, but he would not send me a copy. His response puzzled me. Shackett and his district have been on the cutting edge when it comes to school improvement. He’s fought for teacher merit pay. He’s worked to provide virtual education opportunities to students.

Over the course of three weeks, Shackett, school district lawyer Doug Nelson and the district business manager each refused to return my phone calls, but via an occasional email, Shackett would tell me that while the district’s records are open for my inspection, the district had no plans to send me a copy of the records.

On June 5, another Shackett email appeared in my inbox. He stood by his previous ruling, but decided to budge just a little. “I have directed my financial department to send you all requested financial records that we have in electronic form in the format in which we have them. But a week later, Shackett backpedaled and wrote, “We feel there is no further action or discussion that needs to take place.” Nelson finally called me Tuesday, making claims that the district is merely trying to make sure it provides the exact documents I’m looking for. I doubt a court would agree.

Idaho law is clear: “Every person has a right to examine and take a copy of any public record of this state.” Interestingly, the school district’s policy is clearer: “If an individual requests a record be provided in electronic format, the District shall provide the record if it is available in such format.”

It’s plain that the district is in violation of the state’s public record law as well as its own records policy.

Bonneville schoolteachers and administrators expect all 9,500 students to follow the rules and to act with integrity and virtue. School leaders are supposed to set an example. They have. I wonder whether it’s an example they’d be proud to share with their students.

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