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Iowa City School Board officials seek more transparency

BY JORDYN REILAND | FEBRUARY 08, 2012 7:20 AM

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Some Iowa City School District parents are wary about how soon School Board members can accomplish several proposed improvements.

School Board officials said at Tuesday's meeting that they intend to provide more transparency and better access to open records as soon as March.

However, former district parent Maria Conzemius said the board's past promises make accomplishing these goals by next month unrealistic.

"The situation is so bad now, they have a long way to go to get into compliance [on open-records requests]," she said.

School Board member Jeff McGinness said he would like to see more information on open-record requests so the board can stay up to speed with district information.

"It would be nice for the board to get an update on the requests so we are in the loop and we can be diligent," he said.

However, School Board member Tuyet Dorau said the board should only be notified of open-records requests that pertain to the board.

The proposed transparency goals came almost a year after University of Iowa Professor Edwin Stone and David Gurwell sued the School District for allegedly ignoring their open-records requests for the past two years. The two men contended that they tried numerous times to obtain the requested records.

McGinness volunteered to write up a draft of the open-records article and send it to the School Board committees.

School Board member Karla Cook said these guidelines will inform the public of the board's responsibilities when handling open-records requests.

"We thought it was a good place to start with open meetings, because many people think we can answer questions that we cannot," Cook said.

Some community members were also skeptical about the board's assurance of improved communication in areas beyond open-record requests.

"[The board] hasn't been receptive to public commentary at all," Conzemius said. "You'd have to get rid of most of the board before they would allow people to speak."

District parent Phil Hemingway said the board needs to be transparent in ways other than with the community.

"Board members need to be transparent with the business schools do with vendors," he said.

Board members said they also plan to expand the district's social-media use and create quarterly reports to be published in area newspapers.

McGinness said the board is committed to implementing the whole range of discussed goals.

"I am concerned whether we are putting lip service to some of the goals," he said. "I don't want to put goals out there if we're not going to do it."

He said that in the past, goals had not been accomplished.

"These goals are not problems a year from now, not two, but yesterday," he said.

The board approved the substance of the goals unanimously, 4-0, but said some aspects of the proposed timeline may change.


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