PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) — Oregon’s secretary of state said his office will audit spending by Portland Public Schools, in part because of the district’s decision to sue people who requested public records.
The Associated Press featured the district in a story over the weekend about government agencies across the country filing lawsuits against people who seek documents.
Secretary of State Dennis Richardson told the Oregonian/Oregon Live on Monday that Portland residents have complained to him about the district’s problems and that the public records lawsuit is one reason why it deserves an audit.
The district filed a lawsuit in April against parent activist Kim Sordyl and journalist Beth Slovic, both of whom requested information about employees on paid leave. Sordyl said she believes the information, which has been released in the past, might expose lengthy and costly leaves for some employees accused of misconduct.
The district attorney has ruled that the records are public and should be released. The school district said it filed its lawsuit as a way to appeal that decision, arguing the law is unclear and that releasing the information could jeopardize employees’ due process rights.
The AP found that Portland Public Schools is among a number of school districts, municipalities and state agencies that have filed lawsuits in recent years against taxpayers, government watchdogs and journalists who request public documents. The requesters then must pursue the records in court at their own expense.
Similar cases have popped up in other states, including Kentucky, Louisiana and Michigan.
In Oregon, Sordyl called the lawsuit an attempt to intimidate and retaliate against her, an allegation the district has denied.
Dave Northfield, a spokesman for the Portland school district, said Tuesday the district would cooperate with the state audit. He noted that an outside firm already conducts annual reviews of its finances.
In ordering the audit, Richardson, a Republican, is following through on a 2016 campaign promise to scrutinize the district.
It’s unusual for his office to investigate the performance of non-state agencies. But his office’s audits director told a state legislative committee that the district will undergo special scrutiny because it receives “the lion’s share” of money allocated by the state Department of Education.
Sordyl, a Democrat, supported Richardson during his campaign and is his appointee as a non-voting member of the Oregon Board of Education. On Tuesday, she applauded his decision to audit the district.
“Any misspending of public money, I want the sunlight on it,” she said.
Associated Press writer Ryan J. Foley in Iowa City, Iowa contributed to this report.