Published Sept. 8, 2022
BY RILEY PALSHAW
PUBLIC RECORDS REQUESTS
With the ongoing push from the Carmel Unified School District for stadium lights at Carmel High School, the district has observed an uptick in California Public Records Act requests from concerned community members, a development that the district says is costing both time and money.
According to CUSD’s website, “the California Public Records Act gives the public the right to access records created and maintained by public agencies in the course of their normal business.”
Although the recent surge of requests began with a couple of parents regarding social justice issues last year, CUSD superintendent Ted Knight says it’s quickly turned towards concerns involving the stadium lights project, causing an overflow of questions coming in about other structures on the CHS campus, like the pool and the performing arts center.
“With the stadium lights, because the group of people that is fighting it has threatened to sue us, every time we get those record requests we send them to our lawyers,” Knight explains, “and you just see the dollars piling up.”
According to the superintendent, the district spends tens of thousands of dollars a month on the same questions, money that he says should instead be going to students and staff.
Even though many of these topics are disclosable, the records related to structures like the pool and theater are from the early 2000s and aren’t digital, creating hours of work for district employees as they sift through boxes of records, scan them to make digital copies and sift through thousands of documents for information related to the requested topic.
Since this process does take so much time and money, CUSD encourages curious community members to use the public records requests appropriately.
“This is a request for records, and we’re trying to make that very clear to the public,” says Jessica Hull, chief communications officer for CUSD. “If there’s a record that’s in response to the question you’re asking, we’ll provide it, but it’s not a dialogue back and forth to clarify information.”
WORD ON THE STREET
In alignment with Carmel Unified School District’s pursuit of transparency between the district office and the Carmel community, the district’s website has added a new feature to its page, a “myth buster” column called Word on the Street to serve as a forum for community members to ask clarifying questions on relevant topics.
“In a small town like this, it seems that a lot of people receive information by word of mouth,” Hull says. “We want to have a place where people can have that conversation online, in a somewhat structured setting, that provides accurate information.”
The idea is that people with questions regarding district-related issues can receive a quick and accurate response straight from the district office itself. The only instances in which questions won’t receive responses are if they are personnel-related, if they’ve already been answered or if it’s a topic CUSD doesn’t have any jurisdiction or knowledge about.
“There have been a few people who’ve used it to take jabs at us,” Knight says, “but again, just like with public records, we’re happy to do it for people who truly have questions or people who truly want to know the answer.”
The district’s intention, they say, is to help clear up confusion as efficiently and effectively as possible.
DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT
After a lengthy revision process dedicated to mitigating community concerns surrounding the installation of stadium lights at Carmel High School’s football field, the superintendent released the newly updated draft Environmental Impact Report on Aug. 25, launching a 45-day open comment period for people to review and give feedback on the district’s plan.
A special CUSD school board meeting Tuesday allowed environmental consultants to give a brief presentation on the stadium lights project before the floor was open to the public for comment on the draft EIR, and Knight announced that the school board is on track to vote on the matter at another special board meeting Nov. 29.
At this point, the superintendent is confident that the installation will proceed according to plan.
“I still believe we’re mitigating every concern that the community’s brought up,” Knight adds. “There’s going to be a lot of things we’re doing that I think will make this community better.”
Some enhancements he hopes to add include new tennis courts at Carmel Middle School, additional parking at CHS, a traffic management plan for football game days and dark sky certified lights for CHS’ pool.
If the stadium lights initiative moves forward, the district aims to have them installed by September or October 2023, in time for next school year’s winter practices and games affected by daylight saving time.