After 2-Year-Old Emails Detailing Impropriety Surface, Los Angeles School Board Votes To Limit Retention To One Year

from the accountability-is-for-the-little-people dept

In a set of strange coincidences not unlike those surrounding the IRS/Lois Lerner email disappearance, the Los Angeles Unified school board has decided it will only retain internal emails for one year going forward.

The Los Angeles Unified school board voted Tuesday to buy a Microsoft email archiving service programmed to automatically destroy staff emails after one year.

Why only one year? According to the Chief Information Officer of the school district, the one year limit is mandated by district policy — which is handy, but likely not the real reason. (Keeping all those bytes is considered “too expensive.”) After all, if this policy was already in force, why the vote on retention limits?

More likely, this decision was prompted by recent events — namely the publication of emails more than a year old.

The decision comes less than three weeks after KPCC published two-year-old internal emails that raised questions about whether Superintendent John Deasy’s meetings and discussions with Apple and textbook publisher Pearson influenced the school district’s historic $500 million technology contract.

A half-billion that ultimately went nowhere. Deasy allegedly cozied up to the companies before the district awarded them the tech contract, holding personal meetings with both a year before the plan went up for public bidding. The superintendent claimed he did nothing wrong (“discussed a pilot program that went nowhere”) but nevertheless cancelled the program three day after KPCC’s story went live.

What was implemented never worked properly, making this $500 million (which ultimately turned out to be $1.3 billion) project a complete washout.

The rollout of the iPad program has been plagued with problems, from unfinished software and stolen devices to insufficient wifi at most district schools.

This list doesn’t mention another factor, which almost killed the dubious program before it got off the ground: students were able to bypass the built-in protection systems in less than a week. Having already spent a great deal of public money, the school district is going back to the till by reopening the bidding process.

In order to head off future expensive, badly-implemented plans public embarrassments, the district is cutting the public (and accountability) out of the loop. A one year time limit on internal emails is ridiculous in this age of cheap storage and processing power. The only possible motivation for this public reaffirmation of the “destroy after one year” policy is the elimination of some accountability. One year isn’t nearly enough time for investigators and journalists to know what they need, ask for it and have it returned. A two-year retention cycle proved to be damaging. The district is simply ensuring the same mistake won’t be made again.

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Comments on “After 2-Year-Old Emails Detailing Impropriety Surface, Los Angeles School Board Votes To Limit Retention To One Year”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

perhaps the board should be limited to 1 year terms instead.
This seems like a very good reason to recall them and vote in a board who will offer actual transparency.

They had enough money to waste all of this cash on a bad idea, surely they can afford to save public records that they should be forced to keep for the sake of transparency.

Dan Sherman says:

Re: Re:

It does seem pretty silly that they whine about the costs of storing emails, which are generally text that takes up little space, yet they can blow over a billion dollars on a project that was bound to have big problems.

Cost of a server with redundancy and terrabytes of redundant storage space: under $50,000 dollars.

Cost of a failed program that would have not been brought to light had there not been an email exposing poor management of public funds: $1.3 billion.

As a taxpayer, I’d happily give them my consent to spend the money on the servers so we could have that level of transparency.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don't kid a kidder

If they are buying Microsoft Exchange Online Archiving, then any claim of storage costs is an outright lie.

Unlimited storage is standard for every user’s archive, providing access to all historical information and easing the burden on your storage requirements.

Additionally, any Microsoft hosted email, (save Kiosk), comes with 50GB of storage. No way a year’s emails can consume that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Don't kid a kidder

I’m a system/network admin. I have every email message that I’ve sent or received for the last 30 years. Plus every email message from the (numerous) mailing lists I’m on. Plus every Usenet news article from the (numerous) newsgroups that I follow. Plus every item from the (numerous) RSS feeds that I have in place.

Total storage for all of that — some of which is compressed with gzip — is under 50G, or about $5 worth of disk space. And that’s for someone who’s accumulating items at (roughly) 10,000/day, which is probably much higher than everyone involved in this debacle combined.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Don't kid a kidder

I use a LOT of automation via Unix power tools — particularly procmail. I don’t look at the overwhelming majority of it of course, I just stash it because I long ago figured out that having my own archives of all these that I can search my way using my tools is vastly preferable to being stuck using a 3rd party search engine. This also prevents things from being “disappeared” either by content providers or search engines, thus (somewhat) insulating me from site shutdowns, censorship, etc.

Anonymous Coward says:

More Modern Management Theory

A company had a vast scrap yard in the middle of a desert. Management said, “Someone might steal from it at night.” So they created a night watchman position and hired a person for the job.

Then management said, “How does the watchman do his job without instruction?” So they created a planning department and hired two people: one person to write the instructions and one person to do time studies.

Then management said, “How will we know the night watchman is doing his tasks correctly?” So they created a Quality Control department and hired two people: one to do the studies and one to write the reports.

Then management said, “How are all these people going to get paid?” So they created positions for a timekeeper and a payroll officer, and hired two more people to fill them.

Then management said, “Who will be accountable for all of these people?” So they created an administrative section and hired three people: an Administrative Officer, Assistant Administrative Officer, and a Legal Secretary.

Then management said, “We’ve had this command in operation for one year now and we’re $318,000 over budget. We have to cut back on overall costs.”

So they laid off the night watchman.

DannyB (profile) says:

Better than destroying emails by date

If Google can somehow magically identify what is and is not infringing, and be ordered to do so by courts, then why can’t Microsoft somehow magically identify which emails contain things that are incriminating and could be used as proof of wrongdoing?

Such an email system could be worth a lot. Think of the public good it would do to not waste money prosecuting powerful, well connected people.

John Cressman (profile) says:


Why Public and Private schools aren’t audited every year is beyond me. If you are a parent and can think of something more valuable than your children, then you’ve got issues.

And yet, we let teachers and administrators run rough shod over them with no accountability…. not even an email trail now.

Thank God we live in a “free” country…

Tony Loro (profile) says:


I worked this project. A more political jumble was never seen. At the student level it is just amazing. Kids that would never have an iPad in their hands. Kids that were already app store developers.. Surprise, his was jail broken that night. Sure follow the money but watch the kids. I have never experienced such joy working in an IT environment. To call it a washout is weak. I do this daily. There are districts that do it well and some don’t. Anyone in .edu IT knows this. Schools in the same district have different results.
It will keep happening. The scale and amount of $ made this a target of so many factions. What city in CA has the highest Hispanic population? Check their district rollout. I gotta go.

Anonymous Coward says:

what’s the retention requirement? If it’s one year, then that’s where the outrage should be, not directed at the people trying to comply with the requirement.

Not sure how many people here have gone through any type of formal audit (govn’t, QA, etc.), but the first thing they will tell you is that you only keep the amount of documentation that is required. Anything else will 1) just get you an audit finding, 2) open up pandora’s box where they see you aren’t complying on this simple item and start to dig a lot deeper than usual, leading to #1.

So when you say the mandated district policy isn’t the real reason, is irrelevant. Change the policy and you’ll get your visibility.

Anonymous Coward says:

This school board policy appears to violate California Government Code Section 34090(d) which requires all local government documents to be retained for a minimum of 2 years.

The complete section reads:
34090. Unless otherwise provided by law, with the approval of the legislative body by resolution and the written consent of the city attorney the head of a city department may destroy any city record, document, instrument, book or paper, under his charge, without making a copy thereof, after the same is no longer required.
This section does not authorize the destruction of:
(a) Records affecting the title to real property or liens thereon.
(b) Court records.
(c) Records required to be kept by statute.
(d) Records less than two years old.
(e) The minutes, ordinances, or resolutions of the legislative body or of a city board or commission.
This section shall not be construed as limiting or qualifying in any manner the authority provided in Section 34090.5 for the destruction of records, documents, instruments, books and papers in accordance with the procedure therein prescribed.

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