APS: Progress made in handling of records requests - Albuquerque Journal

APS: Progress made in handling of records requests

Albuquerque Public Schools headquarters in Uptown. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuqeuerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Public Schools says it has hired more employees to handle records requests, and that it is now meeting deadlines outlined in state law for those requests.

The district has doubled its custodian of records staff – from two to four employees – and none of the 41 open requests for records is overdue, APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said in an email. APS agreed in a settlement to improve its handling of records requests.

New Inspection of Public Records Act procedures were adopted this spring that laid out the areas records staff must be trained in, and noted that unmet deadlines would be enforced through retraining and “possible disciplinary action.”

“I do feel like we have appropriate staffing in the office, and as we’re catching up, we’re really fine tuning their processes,” Student, Parent, and Employee Service Center Executive Director Teise Reiser said during an April board meeting. “We are in good shape to stay ahead of requests.”

The new procedures are in line with the February settlement agreement. The settlement laid out a detailed process for handling public records requests, and required APS to employ enough records custodians to keep up with IPRA timelines. Because the settlement was approved as an order, the court maintained authority to enforce it.

Under the new procedures, records staff are required to contact people who request information within three days of receiving a record request, according to the new procedures. They either need to provide the records or tell requesters when they will be provided.

Staff then have up to 15 days from the original request to produce available public records, unless the request is deemed overly burdensome or broad, the procedures state. If that’s the case, staff need to let requestors know why, and when they’ll be able to access the records.

The new procedures also include courses of action for assigning record requests to appropriate APS staff, logging requests, and for informing people why a request may have been denied.

“The new procedures are important in informing district staff about IPRA procedures and timeline requirements for supporting a request,” Armenta said.

The APS board unanimously voted to adopt a new policy on the public’s right to access information during an April 6 meeting.

The new policy came just under a year after a judge ordered the district to pay over $400,000 to two news organizations for failing to turn over public records in a timely manner and not adhering to deadlines in responding to requests for documents.

In April 2021, a judge awarded $293,625 to the Journal after finding the school district violated the state Inspection of Public Records Act in its handling of requests made by the newspaper in 2014. KOB-TV was awarded $118,000. The judge later ordered APS to pay around another $214,000 in attorney fees. The case has been appealed.

Both news organizations had made records requests related to former Superintendent Winston Brooks’ resignation two years before the end of his contract.

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