Routt County schools asked to provide records in state lawsuit
Colorado Attorney General’s Office says districts and taxpayers won’t foot the bill
June 9, 2010
Steamboat Springs — A spokesman for the Colorado Attorney General's Office said more than 150 Colorado school districts, including those in Routt County, won't foot the bill for fulfilling an open records request.
Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt are not plaintiffs in a lawsuit that challenges whether the state's public education system adheres to the Colorado Constitution to provide a "thorough and uniform system of free public schools."
A group of people and 23 Colorado school districts are challenging the Public School Finance Act, which determines per-pupil funding, in the lawsuit Lobato vs. the state of Colorado.
Last month, the attorney general's office asked many state school districts, including the three local districts, to provide 26 items of documentation dating to 2005. For example, one is check registers, account ledgers and back-up documentation for school expenditures.
"The local school districts and the local voters will not be bearing the cost of this," attorney general's office spokesman Mike Saccone said.
In a Tuesday news release, Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, who is challenging Attorney General John Suthers in November, expressed his concern with the "massive" open records request.
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"This is a very difficult time for public education in Colorado," Garnett said. "School districts are struggling with possible layoffs and increased class sizes and cutting the most basic services. An unprecedented request such as this could cost many school districts thousands of dollars out of their operating budgets and shows that the attorney general's office is out of touch with the realities most school districts are facing."
Saccone said throughout the record collection process, which began last month, the attorney general's office has tried to accommodate the districts. He said the office has sent representatives to districts to copy documents and bring them back to Denver, in an effort to save them time and money.
"Initially, when I first read it, I thought, 'Oh my God, that's going to take a lot of time,'" said Dina Murray, South Routt School District business manager.
Murray and Hayden Finance Director Jnl Linsacum said many of the records the office requested are submitted annually to the Colorado Department of Education. After contacting the attorney general's office, Murray and Linsacum said it agreed to get that information from the Department of Education.
Debbie Ginesta, administrative assistant to Steamboat Springs Superintendent Shalee Cunningham, said an attorney general's office representative visited the district Tuesday morning to collect the records. She said because they were mostly electronic, fulfilling the open records request took only 20 minutes.
Cunningham said the office has been "really easy to work with" since the district received the open records request.
The lawsuit gives several examples of the state's declining public education funding. It states that the state per-pupil funding continues to fall further below the national average, more than $1,900 less in 2007.
"The Colorado public school finance system particularly fails to provide funding sufficient to provide a constitutionally adequate, quality education for the under-served student populations in the state, including students at risk of academic failure, students whose dominant language is not English, students with disabilities, students of minority racial and ethnic heritages, and students of low-income families," the lawsuit states.