Louisville Judge sides with Dear JCPS co-founder. Orders JCPS to release PTAs’ financial records to the public.
“In these challenging times, as educators and decision makers explore the glaring inequities in our district and seek ways to resolve them, Dear JCPS wants to make sure every student has an advocate in their corner — especially our most vulnerable students.“
District leaders are to be commended as they grapple with tackling glaring disparities in the current student assignment plan, closing achievement gaps, and reducing behavior and discipline inequities. In addition to these visible inequities, there are often unseen disparities among parental involvement, volunteer and community participation, and fundraising between schools primarily comprised of students whose parents have the social, political and financial capital to advocate for their students to ensure they attend “the right schools,” while those whose parents lack the time, transportation, technology or literacy to navigate the complex system of “choice,” do not.
To that end, Dear JCPS co-founder, Gay Adelmann recently made a routine records request of the largest school district in Kentucky (27th largest in the nation), to obtain copies of local PTAs’ financial records for the past 5 years. These records, which, according to the “Redbook” are required by Kentucky law to be filed annually with each school’s year-end audit, consist of a preliminary budget and a one-page year-end financial review. Her hope was to identify schools that might benefit from a little extra help with programming or fundraising and raise community awareness so that these disparities could be taken into consideration while the district is actively tackling the bigger picture issues.
As often happens when records are held in multiple locations, or when district personnel are unavailable during summer break, the district notified Adelmann that additional time would be required before these records would be made available to her. They informed her she would receive the documents on August 30.
On August 12, Adelmann received an email from Kentucky PTA attorney Coy Travis informing her that his client had filed a complaint in district court to seek injunctive relief in order to prevent the district from turning these records over to her. A hearing was set for August 15 in which she was invited to appear.
With less than three days to prepare, Adelmann sought counsel from pro-bono attorneys and open records experts. They helped her prepare this brief, which was filed during the hearing, but none were able to accompany her in court.
At the hearing, Judge Cunningham was critical of the Kentucky PTA’s request but decided to defer the decision to the Attorney General’s office, in the event all parties were not be able to work out an agreement before then. Adelmann, without an attorney to represent her, trusted the Judge’s decision, and agreed to meet with Kentucky PTA attorney after the hearing to see if they could come up with a mutually beneficial solution. He assured her he would try to help her obtain the documents as long as she asked the “right way.”
Amye Bensenhaver, a former assistant attorney general for Kentucky and a widely recognized open records expert, during this week’s episode of Save Our Schools With Dear JCPS on Forward Radio 106.5 FM said, the Attorney General should never be put in the position of telling an organization NOT to release open records. His job is to get involved when entities SHOULD release documents but are refusing to do so.
Upon further consideration following last week’s court decision, it appears Judge Cunningham agrees. On August 27, as these court documents show, he sided with Adelmann and filed an order for JCPS to release the documents. Kentucky PTA has until September 16 to appeal.
At a time when privatizers are trying to get in through every nook and cranny, influential entities such as Kentucky PTA should be dedicating resources toward revealing predators and exposing their influence. This lawsuit does the opposite.
How much money and time is this lawsuit costing their dues-paying members and taxpayers? More importantly, where was this level of activism when charter schools, vouchers and loss of local parental voice on SBDMs were on the menu? In the past 10 years, only one resolution has been passed at the Kentucky PTA annual convention, and it was one that was initiated by Adelmann.
“This district is taking great steps toward addressing disparities that exist between our school communities. One of those less-often-seen inequities is the availability of parents’ time, talent and treasure,” said Adelmann. “The PTA should be helping us fight undue influences that promote and maintain inequities in our school system, not facilitating it.”
Transparency is the only tool we have to ensure that those with money and power are not using it to advance their agenda while others cannot. As a powerful, influential entity themselves, we have to ask, “What is Kentucky PTA trying to hide?”