CARMICHAEL – A systematic check of how well California’s tax-supported education institutions respond to requests for public information shows community colleges performing better than other government agencies in recent years. But a surprising minority of such districts fared poorly when asked about executive compensation, spending and potential conflicts of interest, and a few examples surfaced of what appeared to be questionable travel expenditures in an era of severe funding cutbacks.

The disclosures emerge in the first phase release of a California Public Records Act compliance audit conducted by Californians Aware (CalAware) in December, testing the responses of more than 250 agencies statewide, including nearly 200 of local school districts, all campuses of the California State University and the University of California, and half of the state’s 72 community college districts.

Detailed results for the community college district (CCD) phase of the audit are available on our website (follow the link from the homepage). Results for the higher education and K-12 district audits will be published in succeeding weeks.

Overall, CCDs’ performance, with an average grade of B minus, was superior to that of any other class of agencies audited by CalAware since it began such surveys in 2006. More than a third of the 36 responded promptly and flawlessly, and another quarter scored only one 10-point deduction. But one sixth failed dismally, with three districts acknowledging receipt of the request but never following up, and three others failing to produce the requested records within the 30-day deadline established by CalAware—more forgiving than the state law requirement of “prompt” availability—for records that should have been readily available, requiring no careful screening.

Quite apart from compliance with public records laws, the audits showed why closer and more consistent monitoring of even relatively routine executive expenditures may be in order if nothing else for the sake of student and faculty morale and public confidence. In the cases of San Diego CCD, Long Beach CCD and Los Rios CCD, for example, the reported travel expenses raise the questions of whether a trip was necessary, or even if so, whether more timely or less costly travel or lodging reservations—or both—might have been arranged.