Op-Ed By Sen. Gloria Romero, Ret. | Los Angeles/Orange County Register | http://bit.ly/1m8m3Da
16 Sept 2014 :: Things seem to just keep disappearing in California’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified.
First there was the revelation that iPads purchased for students were “missing,” uncovering the bungled rollout plan. That was followed with news that the Parent Trigger Law, which I wrote while in the state Legislature, was now “missing” from the litany of California laws school districts need to follow. That “missing law” story is still unfolding, discovered surreptitiously when an LAUSD lawyer mentioned to me they had simply declared themselves “exempt” from the law and then had kept the news quiet for at least nine months.
In the third week of the new school year, an estimated 45,000 students were found “missing” from class rosters, presumably due to flaws in the district enrollment data management system. This debacle forced the district to cancel its annual “Recovery Day” effort designed to curb dropouts.
For awhile, observers began to wonder if disgraced IRS chief Lois Lerner had assumed ghost leadership of the district, given her seeming propensity to magically erase key IRS emails.
With all these “things gone missing” you’d think LAUSD would now be particularly cautious. Alas, such is not the case: just last week board members approved a contract for an email management system that will permanently – and expeditiously – destroy district emails after only 365 days. The move was presented to the board by legal counsel – the same counsel that arbitrarily chose to exempt itself from the California Parent Trigger law – as a “cost-cutting” maneuver.
That’s not a convincing argument, and it’s exacerbated by the ill timing of the email destruction action: LAUSD is in the midst of an investigation into whether illegal conversations occurred between the district and contract vendors Apple and Pearson about the iPad contract and the awarding of a lucrative billion-dollar contract to those companies.
While LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy denies any wrongdoing, the matter only surfaced due to the discovery of emails between Deasy and other administrators and officials at the companies prior to the awarding of the contract.
LAUSD is still reeling from the revelations and potential repercussions from the discovery of these emails – some of these dating back well over a year. Not surprisingly, there was a public outcry once the emails were revealed. The $1 billion contract has since been canceled, with orders to start anew in the design and letting of a fair, competitive bidding process.
We don’t yet know if anything illegal occurred; an investigation is ongoing and Deasy has even filed a public records request himself seeking emails and other documents involving his own school board members via his own lawyer.
But the public might have never learned of this questionable affair and possible corruption in the dysfunctional LAUSD family if it had an email destruction policy similar to what is now being proposed. The public would have been summarily denied access to key communications.
What should be obvious to all is that the boneheaded 6-0 (one abstention) adoption of the email deletion policy should immediately be rescinded. Not only did that vote raise suspicions given its timing in the midst of the iPad email scandal, but it also runs afoul of sunshine in government laws in California requiring preservation of public documents for at least three years.
And certainly, in a district known for questionable spending, there are numerous ways it can seek to implement “cost-cutting” mechanisms. Destroying public records in the midst of an ongoing scandal is not one.
- Staff opinion columnist Gloria Romero is an education reformer and former Democratic state senator from L.A.