A&A: School Superintendent Goals: Public or Private?

Q: School Superintendent Goals: Public or Private? Under the Brown Act, does a school board have the obligation to disclose the goals they set for the district superintendent of schools? Similarly, do they have the obligation to disclose the evaluation criteria for the superintendent of schools? The evaluation criteria for teachers is in the public record, so why not the same for the superintendent?

A: The Brown Act governs public access to meetings and provides exemptions as to when a government body may meet in closed session.  Under the Brown Act, the school board could meet in a closed to evaluate the performance of a school superintendent.  Govt. Code § 54957(b); Duval v. Board of Trustees of Coalinga-Huron Joiont Unified School District, 93 Cal. App. 4th 902, 909-10.  Closed sessions are limited in scope, however, only to discussions that involve a specific individual, the exemption does not apply to general discussions concerning personnel issues.  Santa Clara Federation of teachers v. governing Board, 116 Cal. App. 3d 831, 846 (1981).  While the school board could meet in closed session to conduct an evaluation of the superintendent, it seems they would need to meet in open session when speaking generally about the goals and criteria upon which a superintendent is to be evaluated.

The California Public Records Act governs public access to government records.  The best way for you to obtain the goals and evaluation criteria of the superintendent of schools would be to make a CPRA request.  The CPRA applies to all state agencies except the Legislature and the courts.  Gov’t Code § 6252(a), (f).  It requires disclosure of “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.”  Gov’t Code § 6252(e).

There are several categories of documents that are exempted from this rule.  One such exemption, which the school board may argue applies, is the personnel exemption.  See Gov’t Code § 6254(c).  This protects from disclosure “[p]ersonnel, medical, or similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”  Id.  This exemption was developed to protect intimate details of personal and family life, not official business judgments and relationships.  Bakersfield City School Dist. V. Sup. Ct., 118 Cal. App. 4th 1041, 1045 (2004).  Because the information contained in the superintendent’s goals and evaluation criteria pertains to the professional obligations of the position, and not the intimate details of the superintendent’s life, this exemption will likely not apply.  Further, that the school board is making public the evaluation criteria for teachers is indicative that such documents are professional rather than personal in nature.

You may want to send a CPRA request letter to the school board.  You can find a sample CPRA request letter, as well as additional information about the Act, on the FAC’s website here: http://ift.tt/1jmHASg

Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.