This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Notebook has made a rude discovery: that the public can’t review School Reform Commission resolutions until it’s too late to do anything about them.
If you want to see the full version of one of the resolutions that the commissioners get before they vote, you have to wait till it’s been voted on.
That’s what the Notebook learned when we requested the complete language of six resolutions from the September 23 SRC meeting – resolutions that were withdrawn by District staff before the vote the following week.
The six resolutions all included new contracts, two of them multimillion dollar contracts, and the District was in the midst of a budget crunch. The Notebook wanted to see the full resolutions and not just the 5-10 line summary that is distributed to the public at SRC meetings. Maybe all six contracts were great deals that were competitively bid, or maybe they weren’t. We figured we could read them so we could write about them if they were re-introduced.
The response to our request? District Acting General Counsel Miles Shore said the District does not release full SRC resolutions until they’ve been acted on, a District spokesperson told us.
Fernando Gallard of the District said this practice of denying requests to see full resolutions is not a new one. (Maybe we just haven’t run afoul of it before.) He has not yet responded to the question of whether this is a formal District policy.
We’ve gotten legal advice that denying access to the resolutions under consideration by the SRC appears to violate the following clause of the state’s Right to Know law: “A record that is not otherwise exempt from access under this act and which is presented to a quorum for deliberation in accordance with 65 Pa.C.S. Ch. 7 [The Sunshine Act] shall be a public record.” 65 P.S. § 67.701. This clause would certainly appear to indicate that once the SRC has spent an afternoon reviewing resolutions in their "planning meeting," those resolutions would be considered public and therefore available to us.
And there’s no law preventing the District from making the resolutions public, whether or not the District is required to do so.
The Notebook is pursuing access to the six resolutions through the Right to Know law. The problem is that the law allows the District to take up to 30 days to respond. In the meantime, the resolutions we wanted to review are back on the agenda and being voted on at Wednesday’s SRC meeting.
We wonder if the SRC members know that they’re the only ones with access to the resolutions they’re voting on.
Isn’t this a basic question of transparency? Let us know what you think.