San Diego Unified School District plans to purge nearly all email messages older than 6 months on July 1. It may do so before the public or school board even has a chance to weigh in.

The district’s change to its record retention policy may also wipe out old emails that were requested under the California Public Records Act long before the policy went into effect, according to the district’s legal office.

Voice of San Diego is still waiting for certain budget-related emails sent in 2016 that may reveal what district leadership knew about the impending multimillion-dollar shortfall that left roughly a thousand employees without a job next year.

The district is scheduled to produce those emails by July 21, 14 weeks after they were requested, but Jeffrey Day, a legal specialist for San Diego Unified, said there’s no guarantee that will still occur.

“Public Records Act requests received prior to June 8, 2017 have been submitted to our Integrated Technologies Support Services Department. June 8, 2017 was the date the new Email Retention Policy was announced. The Integrated Technologies Support Services Department is doing their best to make sure that all the requests get processed prior to the transition, however we cannot guarantee that all of them will be completed by that date,” Day wrote.

On Friday, San Diegans for Open Government made a public records request for all emails set to be deleted. The group said it believes it would be illegal for the district to begin deleting messages on July 1.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

District officials say the shift to keeping only 6 months’ worth of emails is motivated by exorbitant storage costs, and that the new timeframe is longer than some municipalities, like Carlsbad and Poway.

District spokeswoman Jennifer Rodriguez said in an email the district is “currently spending millions of dollars on server space to store email exchanges,” and without action “the district is facing over a million dollars in new storage expenses this fall.”

But Rodriguez later confirmed the district uses free email programs offered by Gmail and Microsoft Office 365. “We utilize both free and cost options,” she said, but did not immediately respond to additional questions Friday.

Greg Ottinger, the district’s executive director of information technology, told media partner NBC San Diego this week the district fields more than 60 million emails a year.

“Unless we make a change, we are going to have to spend significantly more taxpayer dollars on bigger and bigger storage pieces versus redirecting those dollars towards the classrooms,” he said.

He was not concerned that important information would be lost due to the policy change.

“Email really should not be where you are transmitting sensitive information to people, because it is just email,” he said.

The district’s email deletion announcement on June 8 gave employees less than one month notice to comply. A representative for the district’s teachers union told NBC San Diego it would prefer the district keep emails for one year, and postpone the change until September to give employees more time.

Nonetheless, the district plans to move full-speed ahead with the change.

“These new administrative procedures will be implemented effective July 1, 2017 pursuant to the Superintendent’s authority to do so, and will be ratified by the Board of Education at a public meeting shortly thereafter, on a date to be determined,” wrote district general counsel Andra Donovan June 9 in a letter to the nonprofit Californians Aware obtained by NBC San Diego.

That means the district will start deleting emails first, and let the board vote on the decision later.

“The Superintendent has the authority to approve a procedure at any time; the Board can ratify at a later time,” Rodriguez wrote in an email. “There is the possibility the item could go to the board on June 27, but likely it will be brought forth sometime in July. There is no earlier board action or discussion planned at this time.”

Existing district policy outlines what student records need to be kept, but Rodriguez said a new policy “will outline more clearly what district records must be retained.”

“The new policy will outline what records need to be saved. Many of the emails currently on our servers do not rise to the level of ‘record’ as the term is defined by law.”

Another district procedure currently on the books says all district emails “are archived and subject to disclosure under public records law and eDiscovery.”

At least one school board member hopes the board can discuss the change before it is made.

“I am speaking as one board member. I would like to see it discussed on the June 27 board agenda,” said board president Richard Barrera when reached by phone this week. “I’m certainly going to express that we would like to agendize an item for board discussion before there is implementation of a policy change.”

Barrera said he can’t comment on the 6-month timeframe proposed, “without knowing best practices… Why do some agencies do a year? Why do some agencies do three months?”

“It feels like this is a work in progress. We haven’t had much brought to us really,” he said.

He also said the district should rethink what it does with old emails that have already been requested by the public but that haven’t been released.

“I certainly believe there should be no email deleted that is contained in a public records request,” he said.

“I think the policy has to safeguard against sensitive emails being deleted,” Barrera said. “What happens when, let’s say, somebody not following a district directive has chosen to delete an email that could be the subject of an investigation and some form of wrongdoing, what happens then?”

The agenda for the June 27 board meeting will be released no later than June 23 at 5 p.m.

    This article relates to: Education, Government, Must Reads, News

    Written by Ashly McGlone

    Ashly is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at or 619.550.5669.

    ScrippsDad subscriber

    OK - let's do a little math:

    Google says average email size is 15KB to 500KB

    District says 60,000,000 (60M) emails per years

    Amazon Web Services provides an encrypted, safe, secure cloud environment that is scalable (S3) and they even have a cheaper "Archive" storage (called Glacier) for storing older material

    500KB times 60,000,000 converted to TeraBytes (TB) comes out to 30 Terabytes!!

    In AWS, using published pricing this is less than $2,000 per year, encrypted, fast, accessible, and can be archived for even less and they have the tools (API/SDK, etc...) to interface with the whatever SDUSD has for their IT.

    Millions? Please show me how? Once again - seems that district has an alternative agenda since the true math makes absolutely no fiscal sense.

    Jeff Rose
    Jeff Rose

    Anyone with knowledge of the tech industry knows that the price of electronic storage, whether done in-house or with a vendor, has **fallen** dramatically. Large capacity hard drives that might have cost $600 five years ago cost $60 today. ***BOGUS***

    mike murphy
    mike murphy

    must be running scared with so much to hide.

    philip piel
    philip piel subscriber

    Nothing to see here folks, union jobs are safe and the emails are being deleted "for the children." Now be good and vote yes on the next school bond or tax hike on "the rich."

    JP de Kervor
    JP de Kervor

    Obfuscate, deflect, destroy all evidence, this is what the 42 school districts in San Diego do.  Not to mention waste as much money as possible, and then complain there is not enough.  They only allow union shops to bid on projects- at a high cost.  They apply teacher benefits (because they are underpaid)  to those making over 6 figures, often paying bureaucrats 6 figures in retirement plus healthcare.  They don't allow efficiency or computerization.  Public Unions should not be allowed.  This is what happens.

    EducatedMom subscribermember

    What happened to the data storage facility that the district spent millions of Prop S bond funds to build next to Serra High School years ago?  This sounds like a convenient way for the district to "solve" their problem with complying with Freedom of Information Act requests.  Can a court order stop this action?

    On a completely different note, it makes absolutely no sense from a teacher perspective to delete emails in the middle of a school year.  For example, perhaps there are communications between a parent and a student about a students' special needs at the beginning of the year, but the issue doesn't crop-up until mid-year.  Unless the teacher has printed out the information or saved it in a document, the information would be lost.  This is utter stupidity.

    toctome subscriber

    SDUSD is run by highly paid criminals, whose sole purpose is to protect their own behinds. 

    Chris Wood
    Chris Wood subscriber

    Comment on: “…District spokeswoman Jennifer Rodriguez said in an email the district is “currently spending millions of dollars on server space to store email exchanges,” and without action “the district is facing over a million dollars in new storage expenses this fall……..the district fields more than 60 million emails a year.”

    I am not an IT guy but millions of dollars seem like a lot with cloud storage services cheaply available. .  The link

    seems to show that 1TB/mo. storage cost of $39.63.

    The school district requires an IT department but most of its cost is related to IT salaries, computer equipment, networking expenses etc. – not for email storage.

    For email storage a disk drive (4TB) from Staples could store 60 million yearly emails of 66KB (~32 pages) for $109. So I don’t understand where the “over a million dollars in new storage expenses” comes from.

    The public should request that the school district identify “… these millions of dollars…” for email storage before deleting any records.

    rhylton subscriber

    @Chris Wood I am an IT guy (used to be) and you are quite right in terms of disk costs, although storage is a bit more complicated than the drive.

    Chris Wood
    Chris Wood subscriber

    @rhylton @Chris Wood  Hi rhylton, have a degree in Computer Science (Database major) and realize the miserable performance one 4TB drive would have for servicing the entire school district email. Was trying to call attention to the absurdity counter posing “millions of dollars” savings vs. a $109 Staples disk drive a ~10,000:1 difference in cost to call attention to it.

    Solution to districts concern: It would probably be possible to use the $109 drive for historical emails from six months ago and before due to minimal access requirements.

    Historical email at work took ~5 second to access emails from 2010 when first employed. 

    mike murphy
    mike murphy

    maybe they are using someone's connected company and getting a kick back for the high cost?

    rhylton subscriber

    @mike murphy Let us remember that these are the folk who achieved a massive improvement in graduation rates by reducing the denominator (the number of students considered eligible.)

    In many school districts, across the country, administrators who meet graduation goals can get cash bonuses