News

Trustee clashes with district office over public records

Lengthy requests are eating up staff time and resources, superintendent says

Steve Nelson is just a couple of months away from leaving his post as a board member for the Mountain View Whisman School District, but he shows no sign of ending his four-year campaign as a critic of the district's leadership. In the latest round of heated exchanges, Nelson harangued the district office staff, claiming that he had been "stonewalled" for months on public records requests, only to receive 3,500 pages of mostly useless information.

At the end of the Oct. 20 board meeting, Nelson hauled out a box containing thousands of pages of printouts from the district office that he received in response to a lengthy public records request he made in May. In a chain of emails, Nelson said he wanted information on middle school math "pathways," and a better idea of how math curriculum and class placement policies would guide students from fifth grade into the district's three middle-school math tracks.

What he got amounted to mostly useless documents that failed to address what he was asking for, Nelson said in an email to the Voice.

"The MVWSD administrators are either inept and need significant further training on Public Record Act (PRA) compliance and efficiency of process, or (are) purposefully out of compliance with PRA issues of obstruction and speedy resolution on public requests," Nelson said in the email. "Either one is of concern to how local democratic institutions function in an open and public manner."

The wording of the request itself was complex and confusing, asking for email exchanges between school and district staff dating back to June 2014. Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said the problem was two-fold: not only was the request both vague and expansive, but it was covered the same time period that the district was adopting an entirely new math curriculum aligned with the Common Core state standards.

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"It required a lot of manpower to pull through," Rudolph said. "The request actually started with over 5,000 documents and we had to sort through it. The challenge we faced is do we want to pay a lawyer to do that or do we want to use staff?"

All told, the request took about 35 to 40 staff hours, including time from top district staff in charge of curriculum, in order to address the single request. The result netted a total of six or seven reams of paper adding up to 3,500 pages. Rudolph said they tried to explain to Nelson that they needed clarity on his actual request and explained that it was a very big ask for the district office, but they never received a response. While they are obligated to fulfill the request, Rudolph said it detracts from the district's ability to focus on academics.

"I think that the focus of the school district should be on student performance, how well the students are doing, how well we are pushing our highest achieving kids, and how well we are closing the achievement gap," Rudolph said. "This takes time away from us to do that."

Nelson said that it was untrue that he was unresponsive, and that he was open to reducing the scope of his request once he heard it would take 110 days to get back to him.

"They absolutely did not get back to me. They refused to communicate with me," Nelson said.

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At a June board meeting, Nelson voiced his irritation with the slow response from the district office, saying he was upset they wouldn't be able to give him "the damn thing" until after the summer. Rudolph countered Nelson's comments, pointing out that every one of his Public Records Act requests have been addressed, and said Nelson's constant barrage of inquiries are bogging down the district. In one month, he pointed out, Nelson had made 55 requests for information many of them informal requests, but each one requiring a response.

"You should allow the district to do their job instead of inundating us with 55 requests for information," Rudolph said at the meeting.

This isn't the first time Nelson and the district office have traded barbs over public records and information. In 2014, former Superintendent Craig Goldman clashed with Nelson over what he called a constant bombardment of requests for information that were often time-consuming or difficult to answer or for documents that simply didn't exist. Goldman expressed frustration that none of the requests ever seemed to lead to anything productive.

Rudolph declined to weigh in on whether Nelson's requests were being put to good use, but said he believes the district's process for handling Public Records Act requests is effective and not problematic, as Nelson described. Despite the big investment of staff time to fulfill Nelson's request, he said there are no current plans to hire additional staff to handle records requests.

"I don't see it as being a big issue for us," Rudolph said.

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Trustee clashes with district office over public records

Lengthy requests are eating up staff time and resources, superintendent says

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, Nov 1, 2016, 10:01 am

Steve Nelson is just a couple of months away from leaving his post as a board member for the Mountain View Whisman School District, but he shows no sign of ending his four-year campaign as a critic of the district's leadership. In the latest round of heated exchanges, Nelson harangued the district office staff, claiming that he had been "stonewalled" for months on public records requests, only to receive 3,500 pages of mostly useless information.

At the end of the Oct. 20 board meeting, Nelson hauled out a box containing thousands of pages of printouts from the district office that he received in response to a lengthy public records request he made in May. In a chain of emails, Nelson said he wanted information on middle school math "pathways," and a better idea of how math curriculum and class placement policies would guide students from fifth grade into the district's three middle-school math tracks.

What he got amounted to mostly useless documents that failed to address what he was asking for, Nelson said in an email to the Voice.

"The MVWSD administrators are either inept and need significant further training on Public Record Act (PRA) compliance and efficiency of process, or (are) purposefully out of compliance with PRA issues of obstruction and speedy resolution on public requests," Nelson said in the email. "Either one is of concern to how local democratic institutions function in an open and public manner."

The wording of the request itself was complex and confusing, asking for email exchanges between school and district staff dating back to June 2014. Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said the problem was two-fold: not only was the request both vague and expansive, but it was covered the same time period that the district was adopting an entirely new math curriculum aligned with the Common Core state standards.

"It required a lot of manpower to pull through," Rudolph said. "The request actually started with over 5,000 documents and we had to sort through it. The challenge we faced is do we want to pay a lawyer to do that or do we want to use staff?"

All told, the request took about 35 to 40 staff hours, including time from top district staff in charge of curriculum, in order to address the single request. The result netted a total of six or seven reams of paper adding up to 3,500 pages. Rudolph said they tried to explain to Nelson that they needed clarity on his actual request and explained that it was a very big ask for the district office, but they never received a response. While they are obligated to fulfill the request, Rudolph said it detracts from the district's ability to focus on academics.

"I think that the focus of the school district should be on student performance, how well the students are doing, how well we are pushing our highest achieving kids, and how well we are closing the achievement gap," Rudolph said. "This takes time away from us to do that."

Nelson said that it was untrue that he was unresponsive, and that he was open to reducing the scope of his request once he heard it would take 110 days to get back to him.

"They absolutely did not get back to me. They refused to communicate with me," Nelson said.

At a June board meeting, Nelson voiced his irritation with the slow response from the district office, saying he was upset they wouldn't be able to give him "the damn thing" until after the summer. Rudolph countered Nelson's comments, pointing out that every one of his Public Records Act requests have been addressed, and said Nelson's constant barrage of inquiries are bogging down the district. In one month, he pointed out, Nelson had made 55 requests for information many of them informal requests, but each one requiring a response.

"You should allow the district to do their job instead of inundating us with 55 requests for information," Rudolph said at the meeting.

This isn't the first time Nelson and the district office have traded barbs over public records and information. In 2014, former Superintendent Craig Goldman clashed with Nelson over what he called a constant bombardment of requests for information that were often time-consuming or difficult to answer or for documents that simply didn't exist. Goldman expressed frustration that none of the requests ever seemed to lead to anything productive.

Rudolph declined to weigh in on whether Nelson's requests were being put to good use, but said he believes the district's process for handling Public Records Act requests is effective and not problematic, as Nelson described. Despite the big investment of staff time to fulfill Nelson's request, he said there are no current plans to hire additional staff to handle records requests.

"I don't see it as being a big issue for us," Rudolph said.

Comments

Jean
Jackson Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 10:48 am
Jean, Jackson Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 10:48 am
11 people like this

"his four-year campaign as a critic of the district's leadership"

As a trustee, isn't he the one who hired the current leadership?


Steven Nelson
Cuesta Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 1:37 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 1:37 pm
4 people like this

@Jean of Jackson Park Hiring. No one Trustee "is the one."

I did vote to hire Dr. Rudolph (3 yr contract), and would have voted to extend and increase the compensation of his first contract, if it had been for less than the suggested 8% increase after just the first year. Dr. Rudolph is a new administrator in California. This is his first job as a Superintendent.

SN is a Trustee of the MVWSD. *this designation is for identification purposes only
The opinion above does not express an official position of the MVWSD Board.


Resign, Nelson!
Waverly Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 2:20 pm
Resign, Nelson!, Waverly Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 2:20 pm
17 people like this

Steve Nelson truly has no shame.

It is unfortunate that he was elected into office in the first place. That he managed to stay in office was a tragedy.

Let us hope that whoever takes his place will be a marked improvement.


Otto Maddox
Monta Loma
on Nov 1, 2016 at 2:27 pm
Otto Maddox, Monta Loma
on Nov 1, 2016 at 2:27 pm
8 people like this

Sorry.. as nutty as Steve Nelson can be I have no problem with someone requesting public records.

If a member of the public requests something they should get it. Period.


Sad
Monta Loma
on Nov 1, 2016 at 3:57 pm
Sad, Monta Loma
on Nov 1, 2016 at 3:57 pm
19 people like this

It's sad that when Steve Nelson goes tilting at windmills, it's trees and underpaid district support staff who pay the price.

Yes there should be access to public records but seriously? 3,500 pages? This isn't LAUSD-- there should be reasonable limits, even if it's just the self-monitoring a normal human would be capable of, on paperwork requested.


Long Time Observer
another community
on Nov 1, 2016 at 9:37 pm
Long Time Observer, another community
on Nov 1, 2016 at 9:37 pm
10 people like this

Perhaps he will be beckoned to serve in Washington if Trump (Horrors!) wins! His persona would fit right in!


Parent
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2016 at 7:19 am
Parent, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2016 at 7:19 am
16 people like this

Nelson is another example of the district allowing (non-tenured) damaging people to remain in their posts at the expense of students' best interests. I admittedly don't know who has authority to lead an impeachment, but this should have happened years ago.
Steve Nelson, you should be ashamed of the time you are taking away from our children. You antics are abusive and ill-willed.


@ Parent
Blossom Valley
on Nov 2, 2016 at 9:05 am
@ Parent, Blossom Valley
on Nov 2, 2016 at 9:05 am
13 people like this

Unfortunately the District is not able to remove a trustee from office. Only the voters can do that through a recall, which is very expensive and time consuming.

Agreed that Nelson has been a huge distraction to the core work of the district - student achievement. Thank goodness his term is ending soon.


@ parent
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2016 at 2:28 pm
@ parent, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2016 at 2:28 pm
6 people like this

Believe me, there were many people looking into a recall. In the end, it does take a lot of time so it would have taken us right up until about the point of the election, so it would have been a wasted effort.

Luckily, he has decided not to run again.


Ex-Hooli person
Rex Manor
on Nov 2, 2016 at 8:23 pm
Ex-Hooli person, Rex Manor
on Nov 2, 2016 at 8:23 pm
11 people like this

I don't know the merits of one side vs. the other in this squabble, but I can be sure that printing out seven reams of paper is a gratuitously wasteful and intentionally uncooperative response. A thumb drive, CD or online zip file would work just fine if they weren't trying to drag their feet and be martyrs.


MV Mama
Slater
on Nov 3, 2016 at 2:00 pm
MV Mama, Slater
on Nov 3, 2016 at 2:00 pm
3 people like this

I am pretty sure all the info was sent to Steve in an email and the STEVE printed it all out wasting school board dollars to cause problems. [Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


Steven Nelson
Cuesta Park
on Nov 3, 2016 at 4:36 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
on Nov 3, 2016 at 4:36 pm
3 people like this

@MV Mama - We shall see on what date the administration printed this out. I asked for a PDF file, as I did for LASD and the County Office of Education. At 3,500 pages, many two sided, MVWSD administrators probably spent $200 on printing - that I did not request.

You might review Government Code 6253.1 - if you care for details on the PRA as it exists today (some of it we voters put into the California Constitution in 2014).

SN is a Trustee of the MVWSD, and these are just his own observations and opinions


Just Checking Back
another community
on Nov 3, 2016 at 4:54 pm
Just Checking Back, another community
on Nov 3, 2016 at 4:54 pm
8 people like this

Steve: Do you just sit by your computer all day to answer those responding to this issue? Perhaps if you took some time to explore other facets of life you could come up with more productive, and even pleasurable uses of your time. After your term ends shortly you will have even more time on your hands, much to the pleasure of many.
So sad that you have made such a name for yourself courting the negative and controversial.


Steven Nelson
Cuesta Park
on Nov 3, 2016 at 6:08 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
on Nov 3, 2016 at 6:08 pm
3 people like this

Here are the links to the statute that explains government responsibility to requestors, [primary source]

Web Link

and another by The League of California Cities (Councilman Kasperzak was once President) Committee on the Public Records Act [a secondary source]

Web Link


Oh really
Old Mountain View
on Nov 3, 2016 at 8:17 pm
Oh really, Old Mountain View
on Nov 3, 2016 at 8:17 pm
7 people like this

Otto Maddox: no, there is no absolute right to repeatedly indulge in bullying nonsense at the expense of the public dollar.

Poorly framed, vague requests, which his righteous, infallible Self refuses to refine, are within rights but have obviously been an ongoing burden on the responders.

Sure, we all have the rights to be all sorts of[Portion removed due to offensive language], but keep in mind that in the legal system per se there is such a thing as a frivolous lawsuit, for example, even with consequences for the initiator. At what point does the disruption of perennially wasting public employees' time leave the shelter of one's rights and become an ethical if not legal offense? Free speech and due process are critical protections; abuse is perhaps the price we pay. And abusive officials should be held to ethical standards as well.

Check out if a PDF is permitted, or if a printed response is required. There are reasons why document retrieval, review, and release use hard copies.


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