KTUU’s Mike Ross took to social media on Thursday to vent about the frustration reporters had trying to find out how many school buses would be running and when they’d run. Reporters were told they would have to file an official public records request to get that information, which reporters determined was newsworthy for the families of 42,000 schoolchildren going back to school on Thursday. Public information requests sometimes take days to be filled, and are often ignored by government officials.
Ross said the news organization was stonewalled by the district, which has said that due to a lack of drivers, school bus service will be in short supply. But the district has not explained clearly to the public when the buses will be running and on which routes.
Here’s the rant, in full posted on Facebook by Ross, who is news anchor and managing editor of KTUU, on Thursday:
I don’t often rant publicly, but as a journalist with more than 40 years of experience, this is an exception because of something that happened today.
Our newsroom this morning asked the public affairs department at the Anchorage School District what we thought was a simple question that would get a quick answer:
“Which schools currently have school bus service and which do not?”
Simple, right? Surely ASD has that info at their fingertips…right?
Here’s the answer we got back:
“That info is not available”
I asked: “why not?”
Then, ASD told us we would have to file a formal public records request to get the information.
Seriously? A formal documents request?
Alaska has a Public Records Law…it calls on public agencies like ASD to make documents and information available for inspection during regular business hours. Having to file a formal records request is usually something that only happens if an agency has to devote time and effort to dig up the information or it’s sensitive in nature and they have to run it past their lawyers.
We told ASD we thought their demand was unreasonable…and one of our reporters this afternoon asked the new superintendent, Dr. Jharret Bryantt, about why they were making us go through this formal process…here’s what he said:
“We have three more bus drivers starting on Monday, we have 50 new drivers that will starting between now and the end of September, so that list is going to be ever-evolving…”
Ok…we didn’t ask which schools won’t have bus service at the end of September…we asked for a list of which schools don’t have bus service TODAY, the first day of school…
Dr Bryantt continued in the interview:
“…and it’s really important for the public to know that a bus route is not assigned to just one school, it’s assigned to several schools. So, when we talk about cohorts, we’re talking about a really logistically complicated list that involves multiple campuses. So, for that reason, we are keeping our line of communications directly to families at this time.”
Well…this is one of the reasons we asked today which schools don’t have bus service…we wanted to be able to gauge and report about how many schools are impacted by the bus driver shortage, and which ones they are. Instead of providing more information about the number of schools impacted, ASD chose to throw a roadblock in our efforts and not divulge the info we were seeking.
I’ve covered several different ASD superintendents during my 16 years in Anchorage…nearly all have been very open and forthcoming about providing information to the news media when requested.
I truly hope what happened today isn’t a sign of things to come from this taxpayer-supported government agency that should be transparent, especially when we’re hearing about long lines at schools with parents trying to pick up their kids.