Often, I receive complaints from parents and citizens stating that the Louisiana Department of Education is not following the Public Records Act of Louisiana. The law requires government agencies to provide access to public records as requested by citizens within three business days of the request. The statute’s intent is to ensure transparency in government.
But the complaints I receive indicate the LDOE is slow to respond — if it does at all — to citizen requests for public information. I am aware of at least two lawsuits filed by frustrated citizens who were compelled to take the LDOE to court in order to gain access to public records. The court agreed with the citizens and required the LDOE to adhere to the law and to pay for court costs.
Citizens, or a Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member, should not have to take legal action to force LDOE to give them access to information that is publicly available; nor should citizens’ taxes be used to pay for unnecessary and expensive legal fees due to the LDOE’s lack of transparency.
Unfortunately, not only is the LDOE resistant to providing public information to citizens, but so is BESE. In July, I filed a formal request for public records and did not receive any response until I added an item to the BESE agenda and voiced my frustration.
At the Oct.14 BESE committee meeting, I proposed that the LDOE report to BESE at each of its formal meetings on the number of public records requests and the status of each. The majority of my BESE colleagues thought this reporting requirement would be too cumbersome for LDOE staff; the committee instead voted to require LDOE to report only once in 2014 regarding the number of unanswered public records requests.
I was not satisfied with such limited oversight of LDOE’s compliance with the public records law and objected.
Unfortunately, the committee recommendation for a one-time report on LDOE’s unanswered public records requests was rejected at the Oct. 15 BESE meeting. Therefore, BESE — and the public — will not have any knowledge of how many public records requests the LDOE is ignoring and whether lawsuits are filed to obtain the records, and the cost for settlement.
This lack of transparency from LDOE — and intentional lack of oversight from BESE — is troubling.
In closing, it is evident the BESE majority’s response is no accountability for White and the LDOE. Too cumbersome for staff members, yet citizens, school districts and other agencies are expected to be compliant with state law. Why not the LDOE?
Lottie P. Beebe
BESE representative, District 3