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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Public records prompt PDC complaint re: Spokane Public Schools

By Laurie H. Rogers

Since January 2007, I’ve attempted repeatedly and in myriad ways to persuade Spokane Public Schools’ leadership to provide teachers with good math materials so that our children will gain sufficient basic math skills. It’s an effort you’d think would be welcome, respected, and relatively painless. Alas.

In 2008, after repeated failed efforts to get a conversation going with the district or with the daily newspaper, I decided to take that conversation public. Thus was born my blog, Betrayed. Shortly after that, I began writing my book, Betrayed: How the Education Establishment Has Betrayed America and What You Can Do about it. The book was published in January 2011, and I began working with two professionals to hold public forums in Spokane and talk directly with the people. The district leadership does not appear to appreciate my efforts to inform the people and to try to get the children the mathematics they need.

A school district’s activities should be an open book to the community that pays for them. My blog, book and advocacy all required thorough and accurate information. Therefore, over these nearly five years of effort, I’ve had to file public records requests with the district in order to obtain pertinent information that wasn’t available in any other venue. For records other than internal district communications, my searches usually went like this:
  • I tried to find the information on my own.
  • I asked for the information from district employees.
  • If those efforts failed, I filed a public records request.
Public agencies must, by law, give you the records you ask for unless a record is exempt for some reason. They also must provide you with a record of exemptions and redactions. Public records requests – when fulfilled properly – can be an effective way to see what’s being done with your taxpayer dollars. For me, over nearly five years and 18 or so formal requests, it’s been enlightening.

My interests have always been two-fold: 1. The children need academics, and 2. The people need the truth. Those two things drive everything I do.

In 2010, I filed a public records request with the school district with respect to the math adoption committee I was on. In this May 6, 2010, public record, secondary math coordinator Rick Biggerstaff asked former district employee Bridget Lewis if he should “pad" the budget for the adoption of Holt Mathematics so he could buy other things. Lewis wrote back, “In this particular case it would be better if we wait until next year to ‘pad’ any numbers.” Lewis added that, “with the amount of scrutiny we are facing in this area with a particular community member, not only she but the board may be looking more closely and question if the numbers are too far off.”

On Sept. 28, 2011, I filed a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission relative to Spokane Public Schools. The PDC complaint has to do with RCW 42.17.130. It’s based on public records received through public records requests – including one that used “Deana Brower” (a Spokane school board candidate) as a search term and another using “levy” as a search term.

The January 2011 public records request using “levy” as a search term resulted in more than 800 records. In this Jan. 28, 2009, record, district employees Kevin Morrison, Mark Anderson, and Kristy Mylroie emailed each other using district resources to discuss new ways to “throw additional messaging resources” at the 2009 bond/levy effort. Mylroie wrote, “It might be nice to have the elementary kids bring those (the new bond/levy inserts) home around the time the ballots drop.”

In this Feb. 12, 2009, record, administrator Kevin Morrison used district resources to email his contact list and urge them to “go over the top” in “this critical campaign.” He asked people to write letters to the editor (“They can’t ignore our group forever!”); distribute leaflets (“The high school vice-principals have been given their assignments”); wave signs (“Grab a few signs, a few friends, a cup of coffee and get them honking for kids!”); and make phone calls (“We are working on the details of the final call list and editing the message/script to be short and sweet”).

In July 2011, after hearing school board candidate Deana Brower speak several times, I sensed a relationship of some sort between Brower and the school district administration. Curious to know more about it, I filed a public records request with Spokane Public Schools using “Deana Brower” as a search term. Brower was a co-chair for Citizens for Spokane Schools, which advocates for district bonds and levies, and Jefferson Elementary School PTG president. The results of the public records request are intriguing.

In this March 9, 2011, record, administrator Tammy Campbell emailed Superintendent Nancy Stowell to “loop you in on this meeting that I am helping facilitate with Deana Brower to see if Latisha would be willing to get involved in the work of supporting the Levy.” Stowell replied “Please call me.” It appears that a meeting between Campbell, Brower, district employee Tennille Jeffries-Simmons, and the community member did take place at a local restaurant on Friday, April 1.

In this June 6, 2011, record, district employee Mike Miller used district resources to praise candidate Deana Brower to Spokane Education Association President Jenny Rose. Miller's email included an email he had sent “to our staff” inviting them to meet Brower at an “SEA 10-minute meeting” at 7:15 at Shadle Park High School. Miller said Brower had been asking to “get into the buildings.” He said he would “hype her visit every other day (in true campaign style) until Wednesday.”

In this June 8, 2011, record, school board candidate Deana Brower asked district employees Mike Campbell and Mike Miller if their invitations to meet teachers and staff at Shadle High School and Lewis & Clark High School were within election “rules.” Campbell assured Deana that, “If we can’t distribute envelopes and collect donations” at the school, “we will work it some other way.”

There’s more to tell you about public records requests – and a lot more to show you about what I’ve learned about Spokane Public Schools, about the people who run it, and about the elected board directors whose job it is to be accountable to taxpayers and voters.

These are your 500 million tax dollars they’re spending for operating expenses, capital projects and debt servicing, and these are your children they’re supposed to be educating. Your children deserve to have a good education, and you deserve to have the truth.

-- Laurie Rogers

How to File a Public Records Request:

Locate the person at the public agency who handles public records. (In Spokane Public Schools, that’s Mark Anderson, at Ask for guidance on the process. Pick the search terms and timeframe for which you want information. Terms I’ve searched include “levy,” “math forum,” “math curriculum” and my own name, among others. Provide the terms to the person at the agency. Ask for all materials to be provided to you in an electronic format, and for an estimate of the cost of records that can't be provided electronically.

They have five days to respond to you. Expect to receive a stock reply and a estimated date that you'll receive the records. You’ll be expected to pay for the records. In Spokane Public Schools, the cost is $.15 per page after the first 25 free pages. It’s one reason – but not the only reason –you’ll want the records electronically, whenever possible. If you receive the documents electronically, you’ll pay for the disc but not sheets of paper. If you just go look at the records, it won't cost you anything.

I do recommend you stay on top of them, provide them with more than one way to reach you, and mark a note on your calendar for when you should receive the records. I’ve been told by some district employees that they tried to email me with a response but had an incorrect email address. That happened in January 2011 when “levy” was a search term, and again in September 2011, when “Deana Brower” was a search term.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (October 2011). "Public records prompt PDC complaint re: Spokane Public Schools." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

1 comment:

Jessica Olson, Everett School Director said...

Wow, Laurie. You really did your homework. Nice job.