Two-thirds of all public records requests to Frederick County Public Schools last fiscal year were made by one person — school board candidate Cindy Rose.
The district typically sees requests from a broad spectrum of people and companies, asking for teacher salaries and their work assignments, budgets and bids, all of which are considered public information under state law.
Of the 122 public information requests to the school district from July 1, 2015, to June 30 on a list provided to The Frederick News-Post, 80 were from Rose.
Two requests for information were denied in the last fiscal year, according to Monique Wilson, the school system paralegal who processes records requests. It’s not clear if those two denied requests were included on the list of 122 total requests.
Requests by Rose — a Knoxville parent and frequent school district critic — delve into both broad and granular aspects of the district.
They involve numbers of students who refused state standardized testing, teachers’ exit interviews and costs of textbooks.
Rose has sought emails from the superintendent and the Frederick County Board of Education to the state education department and the state education board — anything that referenced the Common Core Standards, and the associated test, the PARCC, formally known as Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam, which Rose vocally condemns.
In an interview, Rose said she’s suspicious of the school district and views herself as a watchdog.
“Nobody is asking questions. We just do it, Common Core, PARCC,” Rose said of the school system. “They just do it, no one questions the state, and if they are pushing back, I’m not hearing it.”
She said the school system avoids inquiries and forces her to submit a public records request for even simple documents or answers to basic questions.
Responding to Rose’s criticism, Wilson wrote in an email that all requests for information are routed through the school district’s legal services division. That’s done to ensure consistency and compliance with the timeline of the law, she wrote.
Per the Maryland Public Information Act, any public agency must produce documents anyone asks for within 30 days of a request. Certain documents don’t have to be turned over, though, like personnel records or in the case of schools, personal information about students.
Many of Rose’s requests revolve around testing — how many students refused the assessment given to students with disabilities, assessment data from the last five years, a manual for PARCC.
Other requests involve specific people.
She asked for employment information about Keith Harris, executive director for the Department of Accelerated Achievement and Equity, who oversees the special education department. Rose, whose son has cerebral palsy, said she wanted to know Harris’ qualifications.
Rose asked for how much is being spent on conferences Superintendent Terry Alban attends, and the cost of her dues or subscriptions to professional organizations, associations or publications. This totaled more than $12,000 for fiscal year 2015-16.
Rose wrote in an email to the Frederick County Board of Education that she was concerned the topics being discussed at conferences Alban attended did not fit the vision of education. Specifically, she wanted to know how the system benefited by spending $8,300 on her membership to the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland, or PSSAM.
In an email response to Rose, school board President Brad Young wrote:
“Continuing education and professional development and networking are a part of her job as Superintendent and she does not abuse that opportunity. Coming from the private sector, I know we always spent much more on these types of events than the school system does. There are issues discussed at the National and State level and it is good for us to have representation to help shape that discussion and to be aware of it if it is adverse to our cause.”
The association opposed Ben’s Rule, named for Rose’s son, a state bill that would have exempted students from taking the PARCC. Rose took issue with PSSAM’s position. Alban is a past president of PSSAM.
“Just merely asking, people tend to toe the line and be on their best behavior,” Rose said. “It’s like children running amok. If you look in with a glaring eye, they tend to behave themselves. People should be asking questions.”
The school system does not always know someone’s intent for filing a records request, Jamie Cannon, the school system’s legal counsel, said Wednesday. The district’s role isn’t to discern or investigate why the individual or agency wants information, but to provide it in a timely way, per the law, Cannon said.
Information is usually readily available, simply because much of what people want to know is published online, on the school district website, Cannon said. She said she believes the legal office never misses a deadline for complying with a request, and if it does, it asks for an extension from who initially filed the request.
Some agencies or individuals submit yearly public information requests to the school system.
The National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington, D.C.-based research firm, which releases regular reports about the state of the teaching industry, asked for teacher placements for the previous two years.
Market Data Retrieval, or MDR, a company that focuses on collecting school data, has asked for employee job information annually, Wilson wrote in her email.
FERKO Maryland Federal Credit Union, which school system and Frederick Community College employees are eligible to join, also asked for employee salary information for the previous school year.
Other local names who requested information include John Ashbury, who publishes The Tentacle, a conservative blog; Steve McKay, president of the local organization Residents Against Landsdale Expansion, which is fighting against a Monrovia development; and Jill King, a former Republican candidate for city alderwoman.
Other examples of requests for information include Charles Wagaman Jr. asking for a copy of the superintendent’s contract, Brett Sampson asking about FCPS’ retirees’ sick and vacation leave and Sarah Rosen-Strom asking about services for students with hearing loss.
Typically, the only media organization to file requests is The Frederick News-Post, Cannon said. Other news outlets might take an interest in the school system, Cannon said, but usually that’s breaking news that will be handled by the communications office, like in the case of the Frederick High shooting in 2015.
An exception in 2015-16 was WJLA, the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., which asked for a list of name changes for Frederick County Public Schools buildings.
The News-Post asked for information on the teachers salary scale, student behavior at a homecoming football game at Walkersville High School, and the forms that teachers and administrators fill out when they touch students or isolate them in a room.
Rose is running for one of three seats on the school board. The other candidates are incumbent Joy Schaefer, retired Frederick County Public Schools administrator Mike Bunitsky and Frederick Community College professor Ken Kerr.