In observance of the Memorial Day holiday, the Northwest Herald newspaper will not be published May 27. Breaking news and information will be updated on NWHerald.com.
Column

Styf: Our week seeking public records to benefit you

Jon Styf
Jon Styf

On Jan. 24, District 155 approved a new teachers contract. A week earlier, on Jan. 18, the contract had been approved by the teachers’ union.

But on Thursday, one of the school district’s two communications staffers again denied our public records request for the actual contract. The district is claiming that the document still is not complete.

“The final written agreement is still being prepared and has not yet been signed by the parties,” the public records request denial said. The district’s denial also said the contract, set to go into effect July 1 to give teachers what it says is a “12 percent total increase over three years to the salary and benefits for teachers,” will be posted to the district website once it is finalized.

We’ll file another request anyway.

It wasn’t the only public records request we had with the district that wasn’t fulfilled this week. The other asked for written communications from staff regarding Matt Fralick, recently charged with felony grooming after allegedly trying to have a juvenile younger than 17 perform a sexual act in April online.

The district did respond to say that no complaints have been filed from students or faculty against Fralick.

But it has been unwilling to say when it found out about the allegation, how long Fralick has been on paid leave, and how long into the future they would plan to keep Fralick on paid leave as his case continues through court.

So we requested those communications, which amounted to thousands of emails, which would “take an excessive amount of staff and/or attorney time to collect, analyze, review and redact all of these responsive materials in order to comply with your request as currently written. The District believes the burdens of your requests outweigh any public interest in the information.”

We certainly disagree with the last part, but followed the process and reduced our request to one month during the requested timeframe, while members of our staff separately requested those communications for the individual months between March 2018 and now.

We’ll get back to you on what information we receive in our next response, set to arrive no later than Wednesday. The goal remains informing the public on what the district knew and when, finding out when Fralick was removed from the classroom and how long he has been or will be on paid leave.

One thing that’s important to note here is that we often have good information that something is true or isn’t true well before we can publish that information.

Meaning it’s a lot easier to simply state that Algonquin Township Highway Commissioner Andrew Gasser is in Mississippi or that Fralick left the classroom early in the school year or that Marian Central has had turmoil in its football coach hiring process than it is to actually prove those things and publish them, knowing they are true.

Proper reporting takes time, and we’re willing to take that time to be certain what we are publishing is correct and we have the documentation to prove it.

This week, like every other, we’ll continue with that mission of striving to inform you what’s really going on in your community. It’s why we’re here, and that accuracy is what builds trust between us.

• Northwest Herald Editor Jon Styf can be reached at jstyf@shawmedia.com or 815-526-4630.

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