If you see Superintendent Jerome Belair or the rest of his staff over the next month, you might want to throw them a life jacket. There is a good chance they will be drowning in paper work.
Waterford, along with nine other school districts, has been subpoenaed by the State Attorney’s office because of their connection with a lawsuit on school funding. In the subpoena, the state issues 46 separate requests for information all dating back 10 years, which Belair said would be impossible to complete.
“The number of hours to take to try to locate these and file systems and then make copies is significant,” the superintendent said Tuesday. “There is absolutely no way we can physically meet this demand and provide all the data that is requested.”
One of the requests Belair pointed out is “copies of any and all documents concerning the physical condition of the plumbing/lavatory systems in school facilities in the Waterford School District from 2002 to the present.” The school district has to turn in the request by 9 a.m. on Feb. 21, according to the subpoena.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Belair said. “I would say this is an incentive on the part of the state to really discourage people, school systems and municipalities from carrying on (with the lawsuit).”
In 2005, The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, of which Waterford is a part, sued the state, arguing Connecticut has not meet its obligation to fairly fund education. On March 22, 2010, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled the case has merit, and a trial date is anticipated for the summer for 2014, according to the Hartford Courant.
To prepare for the case, the state subpoenaed information from the 10 school districts within the CCJEF, a subpoena the CCJEF called “onerous.” Belair said the subpoena was served to stop the lawsuit from happening.
“I suspect it is to get districts to withdraw from the coalition because it is just too much work,” he said.
The subpoena asks for all documents in the last 10 years for all 46 requests. By documents, the subpoena states, “any book, pamphlet, periodical, letter, e-mail, memorandum, telegram, report, record, study, note, draft, chart paper, graph, index, tape, disc, data sheet, diary, calendar or any other written recording, transcribed, punched, taped, filmed or graphic matter, however produced or reproduced, to which you have or have had access or control.”
The requests include “the copies of any and all documents reflecting the number of qualified applicants for each and every teacher vacancy (for the last 10 years),” “copies of any and all documents reflecting the age of textbooks in each and every area of the curriculum (for the last 10 years),” and “copies of any and all documents concerning programs or efforts to enhance parent involvement in their children’s education (for the last 10 years).”
Meanwhile, Waterford is and is preparing for the state-mandated student aptitude tests in March, Belair said. Trying to figure out a way to handle this request at this time would be impossible, he said.
“Do you add on extra people, do you take away work from people?” Belair said. “And here we are, we have all these districts going through a budget season. You are supposed to just stop?”
What Will Be Done
Belair said the coalition is consulting with law students at Yale University. He said he will not begin preparing the documents until the coalition gets a legal ruling.
Belair also met with State Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, and State Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, Tuesday morning. When interviewed later that day, Ritter said the subpoena was “virtually a punitive list.”
“I was simply astounded by this unbelievable… request,” Ritter said. “I personally don’t think there is a school system in the country that could do this.”