Discover more from FOIA Gras
Public Info on Private YouTube Channels (part 2)
I emailed the district about their use of private YouTube channels, no response
This is a follow-up to a post I made last week. The topic was the use of private YouTube channels for distribution of official district content. District 65 has been distributing information related to the District’s Sex Education program, a very newsworthy subject to local parents using private YouTube channels. This is inappropriate for several reasons:
The analytics of those videos, which is subject to record retention laws (like FOIA) are no longer in the public domain. I cannot submit a FOIA request to a private individual’s YouTube analytics.
The private channels could block individuals, who would have no recourse. You may recall this was the subject of a lawsuit during the Trump administration, related to the blocking of private individuals on a private Twitter.
The private channel owner could leave the district or delete the video or channel, removing public content that is subject to retention laws.
I emailed the District’s Director of Communications the below email and have not received a response yet. I am publishing this email in the name of transparency and willingness to demonstrate that I care deeply about these issues and not just writing critical newsletters.
A critic can argue that this is a petty issue - who cares? As long as the content is being distributed, what’s the big deal? These are our neighbors and friends and we should trust that everything is being done in good faith. As long as the information is getting out, who really cares who owns the content or what channel it is distributed on?
My response is:
District 65 has revenues over $150 million dollars! The Evanston taxpayers alone are contributing more than $110 million in revenue to the District. This isn’t your local schoolhouse anymore, it’s a large well-funded operation. Other than Northwestern, I’m not sure there are companies or schools with larger revenues than this in Evanston!
I can’t imagine any company with that kind of revenue allowing content to be distributed like this.
Administrative expenses continue to climb every year; consider the District 65 Cabinet alone, which costs almost $1.6 million dollars per year in salaries and went up 16% in the last year. More than $500,000 goes towards the District Communications program alone!
My critique here is that this is a sign of a bigger problem; the District invests considerable resources into consultants related to Family Engagement but cannot manage basic social media accounts for distributing important information.
For Example; Consulting Spend
Consider the below accounting snapshots; these are the results of a FOIA request I submitted related to my story on the District’s five to six figure spending with Scholastic on a survey to parents. It came from an account internally labeled “CONSULTANT SERVICES” with a budget of around $100,000. Here is year 2021:
I submitted a FOIA for two additional years: 2020 and 2022. Oddly, the District decided to redact the information at the top of the screen in my second FOIA, such as account number or even the button to generate a spreadsheet. It is not clear why but certainly raises an eyebrow.
In this account alone over 3 years, the District spent more than $300,000 with very little to show with respect to ROI or direct services to students or families. In addition, some of these contracts are over $25,000 and require board approval. At least two of them, I have been unable to locate on the District’s page listing >$25,000 contracts. I have submitted FOIA requests on those documents and will update this newsletter with that information, as it becomes available.