Judge orders Idaho school district to open records

BLACKFOOT, Idaho (AP) — An eastern Idaho judge has ordered the Blackfoot School District to release all documents surrounding a separation agreement and a consulting fee by mid-week.

Sixth District Judge David Nye issued the order Friday afternoon in response to an open records lawsuit filed by former Blackfoot teacher Joyce Bingham and the Post Register in Idaho Falls.

Bingham and the newspaper sued after the district refused to make public a separation agreement between the school board and former Superintendent Scott Crane, as well as details of a contract payout worth more than $105,000.

Attempts to reach Blackfoot School Board chairman R. Scott Reese for comment were unsuccessful. The school board announced that it would hold a meeting Monday to discuss an issue related to the case.

The payment and the district's handling of Crane's exit have raised questions about who received the $105,428 check that the district made to an unnamed source the day after Crane's June 30 retirement. When they declined to release the documents, school district officials cited protections in state law for personnel matters.

But in his ruling, Nye rejected that stance.

"Everything about this case smacks of a public agency trying to hide its decision-making from the public," Nye wrote. "Parties cannot exempt a public record from disclosure and hide it from the public simply by placing it in a personnel file and declaring the personnel file exemption to be applicable to it."

Bingham said she just wanted the school board to be honest with patrons about the July expenditure of $105,248.

"Ms. Bingham is pleased the judge decided the public has a right to this information," said Bingham's Blackfoot attorney, Jared Harris. "I felt the information had to be disclosed, especially with this kind of money."

Crane started a new job as superintendent for the Grand County School District in Moab, Utah in July.

Crane's attorney, Justin Oleson, said Crane has no problem with the public knowing the agreement, but he couldn't reveal it himself because he was bound by a nondisclosure agreement with the board.

Oleson said he was unsure if the judge's ruling would affect the nondisclosure agreement, and that he needed to discuss matters with Crane before he can make a comment about the agreement.