At various school districts in NH there is a growing trend to have elected school board and budget committee members pay thousands of dollars for access to public documents. The NH AG will not get involved and stop this abuse of office by offending superintendents, no surprise. And who in their right mind trusts any NH judge with doing the correct and proper thing. What school board member has the money for lawyers to get existing public documents anyway?
I think I have a solution for all the school superintendents who, in the process of administering million dollar budgets, do not have the time or patience to comply with citizen or even elected school board or budget committee member’s requests for documents - let the voters decide.
Here is a sample Warrant Article to be placed on any school district ballot:
We the undersigned taxpayers and voters of the ________________ school district request that an annual stipend of $5,000.00 be appropriated for each school board and elected budget committee member of that municipality to be used by that official to acquire existing public documents from the school district, cooperative school district, or SAU, that charges for copies and labor involved in complying with RSA 91-A, for the use of that member in any way the member feels it would benefit the school district’s voters and taxpayers.
Should one of the above mentioned members use their $5,000.00 public document appropriation he or she may use the appropriation of another member willing to acquire public documents on behalf of that member.
In this instance the word, acquire, means by any lawful means.
And if we are still having problems with reluctant school employees who will not supply elected school board members with existing public documents we could amend RSA 189:1-a to be even more clear and specific that it is now. Simply amend this statute where it says “at district expense” to specifically state that access to existing public documents by such school board members shall be free to school board members. This would be a good time to amend this statute to, as part of a school board member’s duty he or she may acquire existing public documents from the Dept. of Education as well, at no cost. How simple is that?
Here is the existing statute regarding a school board’s duty:
RSA 189:1-a Duty to Provide Education. –
I. It shall be the duty of the school board to provide, at district expense, elementary and secondary education to all pupils who reside in the district until such time as the pupil has acquired a high school diploma or has reached age 21, whichever occurs first; provided, that the board may exclude specific pupils for gross misconduct or for neglect or refusal to conform to the reasonable rules of the school, and further provided that this section shall not apply to pupils who have been exempted from school attendance in accordance with RSA 193:5.
II. Elected school boards shall be responsible for establishing the structure, accountability, advocacy, and delivery of instruction in each school operated and governed in its district. To accomplish this end, and to support flexibility in implementing diverse educational approaches, school boards shall establish, in each school operated and governed in its district, instructional policies that establish instructional goals based upon available information about the knowledge and skills pupils will need in the future.
III. School boards shall adopt a teacher performance evaluation system, with the involvement of teachers and principals, for use in the school district. A school board may consider any resources it deems reasonable and appropriate, including any resources that may be provided by the state department of education. In this paragraph, "teacher'' shall have the same meaning as in RSA 189:14-a, V.
Source. 1969, 356:10. 1973, 72:28. 1975, 22:1. 1983, 84:1, eff. July 23, 1983. 2011, 108:1, eff. July 30, 2011. 2013, 243:1, eff. Sept. 22, 2013.
I imagine this warrant article might stir some debate among voters at an annual meeting or deliberative session. Any school superintendent worth his salt would be happy to explain and defend this new budget item, wouldn’t they?