Education, Featured, Open Records

Transparency struggles persist at Thompson School District

Transparency still comes with a hefty price tag in Thompson School District.

Loveland resident and Liberty Watch co-founder Nancy Rumfelt filed a March 19 Colorado Open Records Act request for a little more than three months of school district emails including the names of school board members or the terms “reform” or “new school board majority.” She didn’t expect the request would bring a charge of $3,490.

But that’s exactly the amount Thompson’s public information officer Mike Hausmann quoted in his March 21 response. Estimating 45 seconds to review each individual record, Hausmann said the request would necessitate payment for 104 hours of staff time at a rate of $35 per hour ($150 is discounted from the request, per board policy). His response said 8,329 emails were identified for the requested period of December 1, 2013, to March 19, 2014.

With all of the focus recently on the need for the school board and the district to be transparent, why does the district still insist on making basic information UNAFFORDABLE for citizens?” Rumfelt replied in her March 26 email.

But based on recent experience, there’s no guarantee the Loveland resident would get fulfilled at the stated cost of nearly $3,500—the equivalent of what the average U.S. parents pay for a hospital childbirth.

On January 21, Hausmann quoted a fee of $482 for 2,169 emails to comply with a request filed by Rumfelt, then later delivered fewer than half the emails for the full cost and demanding more. She says the fees were driven up by ridiculous stonewalling tactics. For example, the same message sent out to 138 different recipients in a board meeting packet was counted as 138 emails.

It is difficult to say to what extent the same kind of redundancy has shaped the latest $3,490 bill for transparency. For now, Rumfelt has agreed to pay $52.56 to obtain a small subset of the communications included in her March 19 request. The charge covers the 463 identified emails with the terms “reform” or “new school board majority,” but excluding the names of individual board members.

These aren’t the first encounters Liberty Watch has had with high prices for public records in Thompson. In 2011 Rumfelt made waves by launching a Bake Sale for Transparency to cover a $200 bill that would expose records concerning expenses for school board and district leader retreats.

Under scrutiny for the issue of transparency, more than 60 percent of voters that year rejected the school district’s $12.8 million tax increase proposal. Fiscally conservative school board member Bob Kerrigan also won a school board seat in the same 2011 election. Two years later, he was joined by three more conservatives on the seven-member board, who elected him as the chairman.

Orchestrating the vocal opposition to Kerrigan has been Denise Montagu, one of three members in the school board minority. The Loveland Politics blog has reported on her disruptive behavior, which includes an attempt to hijack a March 5 meeting.

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