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Oakville superintendent says teachers’ records request was mislabeled

Oakville Superintendent Kathy Lorton says that two public records requests from the Oakville Teachers Association for everything from school board meeting minutes to teacher salary information was not processed in a timely manner under the state’s Public Records Act because she considered them information sought in the bargaining process.

The teachers and the school district are in the midst of contract negotiations.

Because the letters provided by Oakville Teachers Association President Katie Rose did not contain the words “public records request” but rather the words “formal request,” Lorton says the school district didn’t have to get back to the teachers within the five days mandated by the state Public Records Act.

The lack of response from the School District generated a lawsuit filed by the Oakville Education Association back on March 5.

The Vidette filed its own public records request to find out what was going on back on March 12. Lorton delivered the letters the teachers had sent to her as well as her own responses back to the teacher.

Lorton says that as of March 17, “The Oakville Education Association has received all records they have requested. … I can assure you it was never the intention of the school district to withhold any information from the Oakville Education Association.”

The Education Association originally submitted two letters, which it considered public records requests, back on Jan. 24. When the district didn’t turn anything over, they submitted another records request on Feb. 21. When nothing emerged again, the lawsuit was filed in Grays Harbor Superior Court seeking the maximum damage allowed under state law — $100 for each day for each document that the association was denied the right to inspect or copy the records at hand, plus attorney fees.

Without the words “public records request” in the letters, Lorton says that the documents were being processed under the state’s Educational Employment Relations Act, which doesn’t have the strict response times like the state Public Records Act does.

A letter Rose sent to Lorton disputes her decision, noting that back on Feb. 21 before the lawsuit was filed, the Teacher Association’s union representative had “asked as to the status of our ‘public records requests.’ She also reminded that the District was required to respond within five days, which would make no sense if our requests were submitted under the state’s Educational Employment Relations Act.”

The Teachers Association sought notices of non-renewal of contract for certificated staff, letters of resignation for certificated staff, termination notices for certificated staff, names, addresses and contact information for all Oakville School Board Directors and the superintendent, minutes of all School Board meetings, an accounting of how much money has been paid for attorney’s fees and more.

Another records request sought budget information turned over to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, as well as monthly budget status reports on a fund balance basis for the district’s operating budget for the last five years, including the current school year to date.