Douglas County recruits school district for open data Initiative

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As part of their effort to streamline public access to government data and services throughout the county, Douglas County officials pitched the school district on joining its Open Data Initiative, which lets consumers search for such information through one user-friendly portal.

“This is an effort to change the culture in Douglas County and tear down the layers of information that separates each one of our governments, including the school district, and become more relevant,” Douglas County Treasurer Diane Holbert told the Douglas County Board of Education at its May 9 meeting.

Douglas County Assessor Lisa Frizell, who also spoke at the meeting, noted how — with technology so easily accessible — the Open Data Initiative can give citizens access to information in the palm of their hand, including material that once required an open records request.

“We live in a very sophisticated community,” Frizell said. And “the bottom line is people don’t care about the silos that we’ve built. They don’t care about the invisible lines in the sand between jurisdictions. They just want their questions answered.”

Reaction from school board members was mixed.

Participation in the program would require the district to share large amounts of its data with the county and make them open to the public.

“It sounds incredibly intriguing,” board member Judith Reynolds said. “And, in fact, one of the things that I hear from people all the time is that as much information that is on our website, it can be difficult to find.”

Board member Wendy Vogel said she had concerns as a taxpayer about the cost.

“It’s one of those things that we’ve been through over the past several years that give us pause,” Vogel said, referencing the money spent on the district’s software InspirED, a web-based software the district built to help educators create teaching units, evaluate and document their progress, and get feedback from evaluators.

And board member Anne-Marie Lemieux said she thought the district had more pressing priorities at the moment.

“I appreciate it and it think it’s a very intriguing idea,” she said, “but I don’t think it should be a priority right now.”

In response to a followup question from Colorado Community Media several days later, Frizell said there would be no cost to the district to participate.

The Open Data Initiative’s goal is “to make access to government services seamless, intuitive, and convenient to the citizens we serve,” the Douglas County website states.

Implemented in December the initiative has since collected publicly available information from Douglas County agencies and departments, Douglas County Libraries, the Sheriff’s Office as well as Castle Rock, Parker, Castle Pines and Lone Tree.

Ideally, the county hopes all of its municipalities and agencies will participate and is courting them to do so.

The program is all about layering data from across the county and combining it in useful ways.

“The real advantage is when you can see where houses sold, how much for and what the bus route is,” Frizell said. “That tells a better story.”

In response to concerns about cost, Holbert maintained the program was fiscally responsible

“This is not throwing money out the window,” Holbert said. “As you know, we are very conservative down the street here about the use of taxpayer dollars, and the cost offset from the CORA requests alone way outweigh what we’ve put into this.” (CORA stands for Colorado Open Records Act.)

Reynolds said she hoped the school district would explore the program. The county said it plans to work with the district and Superintendent Erin Kane further. No action will be taken without first coming back to the board for approval.

In her attempt to persuade the board, Holbert pointed to the one-of-a-kind partnership that was being formed around the initiative by the combining of the county’s municipalities.

“I can’t tell you about anywhere else in the United States that happens,” she said. “This is a very unique opportunity to come together as a community and serve our citizens.”

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Attention Reformers: None of your ideas include the interest of students, teachers, or the community. You don't know how to grow smart. Keep your day jobs.

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