Creating the Records Management Program in the Arlington Independent School District
J'E HARRY, Records Management Officer Department of Records Management Arlington Independent School District Arlington, Texas With the Local Government Records Act of 1989 passed by the State of Texas, many school districts found themselves with little or no resources to accomplish its mandates. Local governments and school districts were scrambling to assign the duties of records management to existing personnel and to find resources to accomplish the mandates of this law. Many districts, already in "overload" mode, were not prepared to accept the challenge presented by this new law. Lynn Hale, superintendent of the Arlington Independent School District (ISD), created the position of Records Management, for which I was hired. My first assigned task was to organize and prepare a plan of action to meet the mandates of the Local Government Records Act. After nearly a year of studying, planning and investigation, I presented the plan discussed in this article. I'd like to note that without the total support of Superintendent Hale; Jim Wren, my immediate supervisor; and members of the staff, none of this would have been possible. Building principals, department supervisors and school liaisons all accepted the task with the professionalism common in Arlington ISD. Evaluation and Needs After reading the Local Government Records Act, it became apparent that we had much to accomplish. Arlington ISD has 53 campuses that provide services for over 50,000 students. The district also has many support facilities and administrative departments. The district had accumulated records that dated back to the 1920s. Records were stored in every size box imaginable-from sh'e boxes to a large banker's box weighing about 90 pounds. Each department and school had its own labeling system and none of the records were categorized as to location, box contents or destruction date. We needed a software package that would control and track records from creation to destruction. Hale had committed to have a "top notch" records management program and has dedicated a facility as a central records storage center. The district supplies the necessary equipment. The software package needed to assist in preparation and maintenance of the records retention schedules. It needed to supply a tracking system for records in storage. It had to provide for tracking and destruction of these records. Additionally, the software had to "grow" with our programs, be capable of tracking thousands of records, and be expandable for our network. After investigation of many programs, we selected Retention Schedule Manager (RSM) and Records Control and Management System (RCAMS). These two software applications, developed by Intersect Systems, are designed to run on personal computers and networks. RSM develops retention schedules; RCAMS handles records management. Intersect Systems also has a support package that includes updates on new schedules to be published by the Texas State Library and Archive Commission, plus offers phone assistance as well as site support. Inventory and Retention Schedules Our first major task was to complete an inventory of records located throughout the district. This inventory included every record. We had accumulated records from our school tax office, school board elections, school bonds, and every department and school within our district. Additionally, we had many records that needed to be retained for an extended period of time due to litigation. Needless to say, conducting the inventory was a huge endeavor. Once our inventory was completed, it was amazingly easy to develop the local retention schedule required by the Texas Local Government Records Act using the RSM software. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission published many written schedules of records plus their suggested retention period, and the RSM includes these. Our local retention schedule was thus developed by simply picking the records listed by the Commission that matched the school inventory. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission d'es not require an inventory as such. However, we did not want to include records in our retention schedule that did not exist. The Local Government Act requires local government to produce records stored in their archives if requested. We felt it would be very difficult to defend a record listed in our retention schedule if we could not produce the record or show the proper documentation required for destruction. RSM helped again because the retention schedule it generates is an approved format accepted by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. With the completion of the local schedule and approval by the state, I felt a sigh of relief. But I soon realized the retention schedule requires updates. Records were discovered that were not found in the initial inventory; others you may want to "customize"; and new records will need to be added as they are created. Fortunately, the software allows adding, deleting and customizing records with relative ease. One really nice function of Retention Schedule Manager is the ability to search for single words or phrases. Let's say you are trying to classify a particular record and have no earthly idea under which classification it should be placed. For example, you are attempting to classify your district's purchase orders. Using the word-query command, just type in "purchase orders" and the program will find the correct classification for you. Managing Forms and Records The other package, Records Control and Management System, eliminates redundant data entry and provides a complete tracking system for records. The program offers one-time entry of departments, forms, local owners, location of records, etc. In Arlington ISD, our first task was to get control over new forms being created. Now our records management committee oversees creation of all new forms and must give its approval. At that time, each form was examined to determine if it was clearly needed. The committee wanted to ensure that a new form did not duplicate an existing one and that a need for it was proven. Since we had already entered our local form numbers and names in RCAMS and had a complete record of all forms, it was a simple task to verify which forms already existed. The purpose of a central storage facility is cost-effective management of inactive records from active records. "When records are housed in a typical modern office in standard four-drawer file cabinets, they require one square foot of floor space for each cubic foot of records. In comparison, when they are stored on shelves in a records center that ratio can be increased to five cubic feet of records for each square foot of floor space."1 ID Systems Standardized Arlington has a central storage facility where most records are archived. However, schools and departments may maintain some records locally. Having records in 53 schools and administrative departments required us to track, retrieve and identify records from many places. Every box of records assigned to the records center has a specific location in the center. Each box is assigned a section, level and slot number. Each box of records assigned to the records center must have the standard Arlington ISD Packing List attached to the end of the box. This packing list includes: department/school name, box identification, packing date, record series - title (local name of the record), start date and an ending date of the records in the box, range, local ownership, destroy date, and the state item number. The RCAMS software lets one include all of this data in each record. Another feature of its data-entry screen determines the status of the record. It may classify records as active or inactive or even confidential. Records' media storage may be classified as paper, microfilm, microfiche or others. A "hold" flag may be placed on a particular record and flags can be classified as audit, legal or historical. Any record with a hold flag attached cannot be destroyed until the flag is removed. We had to track and identify records stored outside the records center and discovered the software handles that as well. Finding Specific Records Of course, the need to locate and retrieve records is an everyday occurrence. RCAMS automatically constructs queries to interrogate the database, using a range of user inputs. It automatically creates and assigns unique ID numbers when record boxes are logged into the records center. However, each school or department may assign their own personal ID number to their records. We encourage all schools and departments to use one standard as their personal ID system. The personal ID system consists of an eight digit number. The first three digits identify the department or school, the next two digits identify the school year, and the last three digits identify the box. RCAMS will automatically cross check with RSM to assure the record is legitimate and a user may elect to cross check the destruction date. If the storage and retrieval system d'es not permit one to locate specific records, then the system is useless. We encourage our departments and schools to call for records by specific box numbers. However, we have found that is not always possible. For example, a records manager may want to find a time card for a particular employee covering a certain period. Yet we maintain three different types of time cards: maintenance, cafeteria and drivers. In short, we had to be able to search for specific records with very limited information. It is imperative that the database permits specific queries! RCAMS has a unique way to keep track of a particular record selected for check out-automatically placing it in a "checkout file." One can enter the name of the person, company, address, record ID number, description and due date when checking out records. A records manager may also indicate when the original record was put in the checkout file or dates when a copy of the record was made. The "due date" in the checkout file keeps track of overdue records. By doing a mail merge using information in the checkout file, form letters can be sent reminding people of their overdue records. Destroying Obsolete Records Saves Money All districts and local governments had to implement a system to comply with the Local Government Records Act by January of 1995. Since a district must now be able to produce the record itself or evidence of its proper destruction, many articles have been published about the "selected" destruction of records and the courts have held local governments may be liable for such actions. Our goal is to destroy records at the end of each calendar month. The software we use identifies records that meet the required destruction date as stated in our local retention schedule, which, once approved by the Texas State Library Commission and Archive Commission, becomes an official document for retention and destruction. Once records have been identified for destruction, RCAMS creates destruction requests that are sent to the local owners of records for signatures. If they approve these destruction requests, the records are then forwarded to our legal department to check for any litigation that may involve them. The Office of Records Management verifies the schedule has been met and supervises destruction. Hard copy of the destruction documents are then placed in our "record destruction file." The software maintains a list of all records destroyed, and also lets one move a record from the destroy file back to the active file. The Bottom Line With the enactment of The Local Government Records Act of 1989, records management has moved to a higher priority for school districts throughout Texas. Greater emphasis is now being placed on effective methods. Schools that paid little or no attention in the past are now active. The reason is simple: An effective records management program will save districts thousands of dollars each year. J'e Harry served for 35 years as a teacher and principal. He has developed administrative programs for his own use in the field of public school administration. He is currently serving as the Records Management Officer of the Arlington Independent School District. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Products mentioned: Retention Schedule Manager (RSM) and Records Control and Management System (RCAMS); Intersect Systems, Fort Worth, TX, (817) 534-2707 References: 1. Robek, M., Brown, G.F. & Maedke, W.O. (1987), Information and Records Management, Glenc'e, p. 351.
This article originally appeared in the 11/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.