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Court orders release of records on superintendent's resignation

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         WASHINGTON         Freedom of Information         Mar 28, 2000    

Court orders release of records on superintendent’s resignation

  • A school district was ordered to release 39 documents on the unexpected resignation of its superintendent that it had avoided releasing by handing them over to its attorney.

The Mercer Island School District in late March released records concerning the abrupt resignation of its school superintendent shortly after her mid-year evaluation in her first year on the job and the agreement of the school district to buy out the remainder of her three-year contract for $194,000. Judge Steven Scott of the King County Superior Court gave the school district one day to release 39 documents it had withheld.

His ruling came in response to a request by the school district for an injunction against release of the records to the Mercer Island Reporter and The Seattle Times, both of which had filed open records requests for the documents. They were subpoenaed to appear in court to show why their open records requests should be met.

The school district and its former superintendent Paula Butterfield had agreed that information about the records relevant to her evaluation and settlement would not be disclosed, according to The Seattle Times, and school district officials had explained to the public only that she “was not a good fit.”

Seattle Times reporter Tan Vinh said the newly released documents outlined staff complaints against Butterfield and negative comments on her evaluation. She did not release board members from their agreement not to explain her dismissal.

After making the newly released records available at a meeting with dozens of parents, the five board members agreed that the public will be actively involved in the search for a new superintendent. The board will have to pay attorneys fees to the two newspapers.

Reporter editor Jane Meyer filed a request for the records in late February and Vinh filed one shortly afterward. The school district granted access to 12 documents but turned over 39 others to its attorneys, denying access not under any state exemption but because the records were in the offices of its attorneys. It then filed for the injunction.

(Mercer Island School District v. Seattle Times Co. and Horvitz Newspapers; Media Counsel: Michelle Hubbard and Sharon Fowler, Seattle)

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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