BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto school board has settled a lawsuit with a resident who sued claiming the district violated the California Public Records Act by withholding public documents.
In October, Matthew McClain filed a records request for the district’s Measure of Academic Performance scores for elementary and middle school students from 2010 to 2019.
He also asked for a “demographic analysis” of the test scores.
In addition, McClain requested contracts between the district and the Northwest Evaluation Association, which publishes the MAP test.
McClain received no response to his request within 10 days, which is the legal deadline for public agencies to respond.
McClain said Amanda Bark, executive assistant to the district’s General Counsel Komey Vishakan, told him on Oct. 14 that she asked the district’s research department for the information.
On Oct. 28, McClain learned that the district closed his request and were no longer working on it, and he tried to find out why.
Bark said that the district does not aggregate the test results and does not track or report on the test scores of student subgroups.
McClain filed an additional public records request for MAP test reports on Nov. 19, and the district did not respond with the records he requested, according to a page on the district website that charts public record requests.
McClain emailed Superintendent Don Austin on Dec. 5, who replied that there was “no public benefit” to his requests, according to McClain’s lawsuit.
McClain asked in the lawsuit that the district fulfill his records requests and pay his attorney’s fees.
Before his suit went before a judge, the school board voted 5-0 on May 12 meeting to settle with McClain for $9,964.
The school district has had a history of delaying public records requests despite state law, though the number of outstanding requests has dropped sharply in the past 18 months.
The number of outstanding requests peaked in October 2018 at 77. By this April, the number had fallen to six, according to a chart Vishakan submitted to the school board.
PAUSD — why not just obey the law? No, instead you spend $9964 of taxpayer money and still have to fulfill the request anyway? Why keep the data about student performance from the community? What do you have to hide?
A friend of just notified of this story about the lawsuit and settlement. I would like to comment that I did not ask this to be publicized, nor did I know about this article until just now.
It pains me whenever we waste taxpayer funds on attorney fees. Please do understand, though, that this settlement amount represents 00.004% of PAUSD’s annual budget. I want my neighbors to know that I did everything in my power to help PAUSD to be aware of and satisfy their legal requirement of release before suing, including laying our for the district how clear the law is that would compel release, referencing to them their own documents and statements attesting to the existence and relevance of the records for public release, and that I was prepared to petition for relief if they ignored the law.
Data about student performance (individual and for cohorts) is essential for us learn and grow, and worth this modest, additional expense for public disclosure. This expense is also inconsequential in comparision to the tens of thousands of hours of student time PAUSD has forced students to spend on these assessments. The position of PAUSD and Dr. Austin that no results of any kind would be available to parents or the public, after this investment of kids’ time and energy, is / was truly indefensible and personally insulting me, my children, and our community.
My email address is my name at gmail, so any neighbors can tell me personally if they strongly disagree!
Parents have the right to know how their kids are performaning at our public schools. Thank you, Mr. McClain, for fighting to rightfully obtaining our kids’ test results!
Shame on PAUSD for withholding our children’s exam performance data. What are you trying to hide? Is it that the results show negative progress on closing achievement gaps and poor district performance?
PAUSD has a long history of violating CPRA laws. PAUSD’s general counsel, Komey Vishakan, either does not know what is going on or was directed by the board to allow these CPRA violations to continue. In 2018, PAUSD promoted Ms. Vishakan to be the legal counsel to assist PAUSD in becoming compliant with the laws. Apparently, this is not working despite public tax dollars funding her new role at nearly $200k per year. Mr. McClain’s PRA is an example of a valid request and a very simple matter to fulfill. How is it that PAUSD continues to deny the public their legitimate PRA requests even with Ms. Vishakan’s position created?
This lawsuit manifests a better use of Palo Alto residents’ tax dollars, which is to educate our kids and become a law abiding district, instead of wasting the money on a so-called General Counsel position.
There goes $9000 that could be spent on students especially now with the economic downturn and budget cuts.
@ Janice, agree with you! What is the district trying to hide by not providing student performance data?
Maybe they are trying to hide the fact that we have ~40% elementary students who are 1-2 years ahead in Math than Common Core standard, but they are forced to repeat “reviewing elementary math” in 6th grade for the entire year!
Our neighboring school districts in Los Altos, Cupertino, and even Sunnyvale, on the contrast, are allowing these 40% students to learn at their own pace, by placing these students to take PreAlgebra in 6th grade and Algebra in 7th grade.
If PAUSD’s home-baked “Skip grade math tests” are fair, the result should be comparable to the MAP test (which is a national standard), and would show that 30-40% incoming 6th graders should skip Math 6.
The aggregate result of “math skip tests” should be published and shared with the community if PAUSD has nothing to hide.
We don’t need another CPRA or another lawsuit for this!
How can the Superintendent say there’s “no public benefit”? Isn’t this the same type of data that the board discusses ad infinitum at public board meetings? What is Austin and the highly paid General Counsel Komey Vishakan trying to hide? Do they realize that they just cost the district another $10K, not including the time spent on their own fighting to keep the information from the public’s view?
Just shows that the district will never change their stance on protecting themselves first and the students and the community are a far distant second
This is another example of how PAUSD currently has the most inept administrators I’ve seen in 30 years. They settled because they knew they would lose in court. Why did they let it get this far? Why didn’t Vishakan warn Austin and the board that this was headed to court and they should fulfill McClain’s request? And what’s the district’s legal fees in this? If Austin, Vishakan and the board make a blunder on this, why should we trust them on multi-million-dollar decisions? This case may be the proverbial canary in the coal mine.
Must be easy to get your numbers down and say you have few public records requests outstanding when you just close ones you’re supposed to answer, like in this case. And if you just respond to requests with garbage, then you can close other ones. Voila! No more requests open. Well done PAUSD!