Protecting the public’s right, and responsibility, to know

You may not have realized it, but this past week, March 16-22, was national Sunshine Week.

Sunshine Week is sponsored annually by the American Society of Newspapers to promote the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants in this observance usually include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

Our Morning Journal reporters are given the assignment annually to request public records from various governmental entities. We send our reporters into geographical areas that they don’t normally cover, in the hopes that they won’t be recognized. This way they can request records anonymously, just as the public has the right to do. This usually doesn’t work as planned since our veteran news staff is known throughout Columbiana County.

This year we decided to seek written evaluations of the superintendents of the 11 public school districts in Columbiana County. With only a few snags, which are detailed in our reports that begin on Page 1, our districts were mostly compliant with our requests.

We were dismayed to learn, however, that two of our school districts – Columbiana and Wellsville – had no written evaluations on file for their chief operating officer, otherwise known as the superintendent. Some other districts had evaluations which were several years old.

Many of our superintendents earn salaries that are nearing or exceeding six figures, which is justifiable considering the large scope of their positions and the fact that they are entrusted with overseeing the education of our children. But anyone earning this large amount of public dollars should be held accountable by having his or her performance evaluated annually.

An annual evaluation not only helps hold the superindent’s feet to the fire, it also allows him or her to see how the board of education, which is the public’s representative, views his job performance. Superintendents who are ultimately fired or non-renewed from a school district would never be surprised to lose their jobs if evaluations are performed properly and annually. And, those evaluations should be put into writing and placed into the superintendent’s personnel file.

Then, the written evaluations should be available to the public immediately upon request – not 24 hours later, not after a written request and without the requester having to identify themselves or give a reason for the request. You, as a member of the public have the right to know, and that’s what Sunshine Week is all about – making sure government officials are following the law and educating the public about its right to know.

We take our role very seriously and so should you.