The East St. Louis school district lives in a state of denial.
For many years, district officials refused to release public records, including school board minutes, the most basic documents in any school district. The district repeatedly denied requests for public information, even though it was almost always in the best interest of the public to release that information.
In 2006, during the peak of our investigation into problems in District 189, we had to threaten to sue the district just to get school board minutes. Then, the district tried to make us pay $20,000 for copies that turned out to cost a few hundred dollars. The district demanded cash up front and still owes us $500.
Last week I requested copies of the contracts for Dr. Marlene Davis and Dr. Stephanie Carpenter, two consultants featured in our story.
This is the response from Douglas Clark Jr., Communications / Information Coordinator for District 189:
Regarding your request for copies of the consulting contracts of Dr. Marlene Davis and Dr. Stephanie Carpenter, East St. Louis (IL.)
School District #189 hereby denies your verbal request for the personnel documents, as well as an interview with Superintendent of Schools Dr. Theresa Saunders.
If you have any specific questions regarding the school district's use of academic consultants, please feel free to ask.
Please be advised, as it relates to academic consultants / coaches, East St. Louis School District #189 is in compliance with Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) guidelines requiring that a school district be able to demonstrate to ISBE that the individual selected as an outside expert has a proven track record of assisting in the significant increase of student achievement at schools of similar demographics.
In addition, if the individual selected has had a past relationship with the school of district, the district must carefully consider whether the individual can maintain sufficient professional detachment and decorum as an outside expert in the new role.
Moreover, ISBE requires once the school district has selected an appropriate expert, the school district must be able to demonstrate and to document, by board resolution or other means, its commitment to implementing the recommendations of the expert in an expeditious manner.
Thank you for your consideration.
Douglas Clark Jr.
Rarely do we accept such a response without making another request for the same information.
I would like to know the amount of money paid to Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Marlene Davis since they became consultants for District 189.
This information should be available to the public, which includes journalists. We have received similar information about consultants, including copies of their expense reports and contracts, as a result of previous Open Records requests.
As part of this request, I would like to know the selection process used to choose Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Marlene Davis as consultants. In addition, I request copies of the documents that describe the selection process and other candidates considered as consultants.
KMOV also requests copies of all reports reviewing the goals and performance of Dr. Carpenter, Dr. Marlene Davis and former consultant Dr. Betty Davis. All of this information should be available to the public.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Four hours later, the district e-mailed this response:
Dr. Stephanie Carpenter ($100,000) and Dr. Marlene Davis ($70,000) were hired during a May 21, 2007, school board session, with contracts effective July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008. No expenses are paid to either consultant, thus eliminating the need for expense reports.
As far as the selection process is concerned, the school district advertised for consultants in newspapers and on-line and received no responses.
Based upon Dr. Carpenter's prior experience as Assistant Superintendent of Schools within District #189 and having served as principal at Hawthorne Elementary School, Dr. Saunders asked if she would serve at Hawthorne in a consultant capacity.
Additionally, Dr. Saunders was aware of the work Dr. Davis had done in the Detroit, Michigan area and Wayne County schools in general, and having had experience within a similar demographic as East St. Louis Senior High School, asked that she come aboard as a consultant there.
Both Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Davis accepted the offer and began their duties by meeting with staff to access what had been done at the respective schools, as well as what needed to be done to obtain the desired results.
Regarding the latter portion of your query, the goals and performance elements of Dr. Carpenter, Dr. Marlene Davis and Dr. Betty Davis were personnel contract intensive and discussed in Executive Session and not available for public review unless the school board deems needed.
Thank you for your consideration.
Douglas Clark Jr.
The e-mail didn't answer all of my questions, but I welcomed it anyway.
District 189 provided direct responses to questions that it could have taken days, or even weeks, to answer. Not long ago, it wouldn't have even acknowledged receiving the request.
It's the way business should always be conducted in any school district, especially one with so much explaining to do.