Increasing demand in SKSD public records system

The South Kitsap School District, like other public agencies, deals with its fair share of public records requests that range from straightforward to intricate and can take mere minutes or weeks to answer.

The SKSD appears to be taking on more requests each year, including 126 from Jeff Daily, one of the district’s elected officials, dating back to pre-pandemic days.

The Port Orchard Independent looked at every public request from the 2019-20 school year until April 30 of this year. The information provided includes when they were filed, responded to and completed with the number of hours spent fulfilling them. They also vaguely indicate who the requesting party is, what is asked for and what actions were taken to respond.

The district received 67 requests in 2019-20, 78 in 2020-21, and 87 in 2021-22. As of May 9, 2023, the number sits at 53. However, previous documents indicate a large number each summer.

SKSD has no dedicated public records custodian, but school officials said Landa Fuchs handles most of them.

“Searching for documents, reviewing documents and third-party notifying is time-consuming and must be done with great care and attention to detail,” Fuchs said. “The staff member assigned as the public records custodian also has other duties that must be done, as well as coordinating and reviewing all documents before release.”

Fuchs added that there is a common misconception of what the service provides the public.

“Public records often get confused with asking general questions and seeking information, not documents,” she said. “The Public Records Act does not require creating new records, providing information or answering questions. The Public Records Act requires providing responsive records that exist at the time of the public records request.”

Time-consuming requests

SKSD school board director Daily was easily identified as the most frequent requester of public records every year, a practice he has often been transparent about in board meetings and other public appearances. 29 of the 2019-20 requests were submitted by him, and 27 followed in 2020-21. That number jumped in 2021-22 to 45 and sits at 25 for the present year. In total, Daily’s requests make up roughly 44% of the total requests.

Other names and agencies were identified as frequent requesters. Two names that appear consistently across the timeline are longtime SKSD critics Dave Kimble and Larry Mann, the latter of whom is running to be the SKSD director for District 5. Several law firms, activists and foundations have also requested public documents.

Thus far, the five longest request times for the 2022-23 year have been:

•Kristina Gibson requested “All emails and investigation records for (redacted) cheer coach and booster related,” which took three months to fulfill.

•Kimble requested “Emails Investigations Daily Matter,” which took two-and-a-half months to complete.

•Kimble also requested “Emails Board Members FAC Planning committee,” which was given a timeline of two months.

•Rhiannon McCarthy’s request for “Emails regarding daughters,” which was acknowledged as received the day of the request and took 40 hours to complete.

•Daily requested “CTE Docs/Teachers/ Classrooms and sizes,” which took 28 hours to complete.

Other notable requests include 10 hours by Sarah Lippek for “Investigation Materials (redacted)” and multiple requests regarding the SKHS pool. Also included is a request from Gjersvold on “Gender Inclusion Policy Docs,” documents that led to heavy debate within the district in past months.