How Schools Can Easily Manage the Flood of Public Records Requests
Public records requests are up at schools across the country, both in number and complexity. With limited time and resources to devote to this growing reality, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. What is driving this surge in requests, and how can software help?
What’s causing the rush of public records requests?
Much of the uptick of records requests focuses on hot-button topics like politics. “In Florida, we have book banning, the Parental Rights (otherwise known as the Don’t Say Gay Bill), and we have a Highly politicized school board. We have a lot going on that parents and community members are very involved with,” said Angela Shepard, Communications Specialist, Hernando School District, Florida during a recent webinar that focused on public records requests. Having communities involved in how districts operate is a common goal. However, when a school district suddenly becomes the topic of news stories, parents might question school safety and security. Insufficiently staffed school districts might not be prepared for all the new questions and requests coming in.
How are public records requests currently being managed?
According to those attending our webinar, 43 percent of all records requests are being tracked in a single spreadsheet while another 36 percent primarily track their requests through emails. More Districts than ever see the benefits of adopting technology to manage records. Unfortunately, many districts are still weary of making any drastic changes.
“When we initially went to our IT department requesting a different solution, they tailored a software program and tried to make it work for us.” said Lynae Vingle, Coordinator of Legal Services. Fort Bend ISD. But Vingle soon found that when it came to reporting and tracking data their solution didn’t meet their needs, leaving them still inundated with requests.
What is slowing down response time to public records requests?
According to the 2023 Public Records Complexity Report, the biggest obstacle districts face is report complexity. Nearly 55 percent of those surveyed reported that request complexity is the single largest issue that districts face when responding to requests. These requests can be complex for several reasons including length, the authenticity of requests, and the coordination of which department has access to the requested information.
The second-largest issue cited in the Complexity Report is insufficient staffing and resources. When departments don’t have the necessary staff or resources to search for the requested records it can significantly slow down a district’s ability to respond in a timely manner. This can result in filing for extensions taking upwards of a week to properly respond.
How has the public perception of transparency changed with public records?
Vingle said that despite so many requests coming in for things such as zoning and budget, there is potential to change the environment staff find themselves working in.
“When community members are seeing things in the media that are happening in their own communities and they’re looking to us for that information,” she said. “I think being able to provide it in a clean and consistent way helps to give confidence to our community.”
However, transparency can be challenging for a small staff, or even one person. Coworkers have their own responsibilities to prioritize, and having to coordinate requests can be an arduous process. This further encourages school districts to move toward digital records request management.
Reducing stress with self-service FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) functionality
As requests continue to increase, staff are increasingly aware about what they put in emails, texts, and even Facebook messages, leaving them feeling as if they are walking on eggshells.
After switching to a digital records management system, Shepard is now able to effortlessly track record requests for Hernando School District with automated workflows, and she no longer must nudge colleagues thanks to automated reminders. With Granicus, Hernando School District was also able to implement “Trending Topics” to proactively deflect duplicate and redundant requests before they are even submitted.
With dedicated implementation teams, Granicus can configure public records request portals to reflect the specific needs of any organization. Discover how moving to a digital records request system can save time, money, and staff resources.