In response to an uptick in citizens’ requests for information and in an effort to provide more transparency to the public, Beaufort County School District will soon post those requests on the district’s website, Superintendent Jeff Moss announced at a Tuesday evening board meeting.
In the past, citizens’ information requests through the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act have been emailed only to the individual who requested it.
Posting the requested information on the web is “about as transparent as you can be,” Moss said at the meeting.
From July 2016 through March 2017, the district received an average of 7.5 FOIA requests each month. In April, district data shows 26 FOIA requests were submitted.
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Board member JoAnn Orischak wondered what the increase in FOIA requests means in terms of the district’s relationship with the public.
“Why is there a spike in FOIAs?” she asked Wednesday. “The public doesn’t trust. If your first request doesn’t end with you receiving the information you actually requested, then you’re going to submit another one.”
State law allows an agency 15 business days to decide whether a request will be fulfilled.
“We don’t have anything to hide,” Moss said, but he added that the volume of requests could affect the district’s response time, which for this school year has been “4.67 business days.”
The district’s risk manager, Jennifer Staton, typically spends 10 percent of her time on fulfilling FOIA requests, but given the increased volume in the last month, this part of her job has taken close to 50 percent of her time, Foster said.
No timeline has been established for when the district will begin posting FOIA requests online, said district spokesman Jim Foster.
Almost a third of the April requests came from Rich and Fran Bisi, who regularly attend board meetings. The Bisis founded Citizens Advocating Responsible Education in response to Moss’ 2015 state ethics violations and the school board’s handling of the matter.
“It will, in my opinion, be a little refreshing, so that when someone comes here and speaks to some documents they may have received, you get all of the story,” Moss said.
He offered the example of Rich Bisi’s request for information relating to Source4Teachers, a company the district contracted with for $2 million last year to address substitute teacher shortages.
Bisi’s request showed that Source4Teachers has, so far, failed to meet its promise of filling at least 95 percent of empty classes.
During the public comment period Tuesday, Bisi pointed out the company’s average fill rate this year has been 86 percent.
Moss explained that posting Bisi’s information request online will provide the public with a more complete picture of the substitute teacher fill rate. In February through April, Source4Teacher’s fill rate has been more than 90 percent, he said.
“That’s the whole story,” he said. “Not just one number but all of the numbers.”