Inefficiency at Wellesley Schools stifles transparency

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Sometimes the smaller the bureaucracy gets, the more inefficient or unwilling it is to provide basic data that would help show how well it’s fulfilling its responsibilities. The Wellesley Public School System is one example that Freedom of Information website MuckRock has encountered in its ongoing work to make public entities comply with the commonwealth’s public records laws.

MuckRock, in partnership with the Pioneer Institute, filed several requests for Individualized Education Plan (IEP) data across Massachusetts. We were looking for basic enrollment information, including:

– The number of students evaluated by the district to determine if they qualified for an IEP

– The number of students who qualified for an IEP based on that evaluation

– The number of students initially rejected but were subsequently placed on an IEP after independent assessments

State public records law states that officials can charge for the time it takes to compile and redact sensitive information from requested documents. But we had no idea Wellesley Public Schools would want $3,525.38 just to tell us how many initially rejected students were eventually allowed into an IEP.

That amount apparently accounts for reviewing the files of all 359 IEP students, because the system hasn’t kept track of which ones were originally rejected.

Not keeping track of those numbers means we’re left in the dark about that aspect of the IEP process. Schools that might be reluctant to accept more IEP students — whether for cost or staffing reasons — are able to turn down requests and put the cost burden of an independent assessment on parents.

So that’s $3,525.38 worth of work for data that should already be available. And at the quoted rate of a half-hour per student file, one wonders how organized those files could be.

In an age when filing cabinets are passé, there should be more access to information than ever before. Instead, Wellesley is passing the buck on its own inefficiency.