Virginia school demands $40,000 to release spending records

June 27, 2012


By Steve Gunn

MANASSAS, Va. – There’s no “free” when it comes to “freedom of information” requests in Virginia’s Prince William County school district.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

On behalf of, Americans for Prosperity-Virginia recently filed a freedom of information request with the district, seeking checking account records, employee cellular telephone bills and credit card statements from all departments.

The request is part of an national project regarding public school spending. Many districts across the nation have or will be receiving similar requests.

Most districts don’t charge for supplying such information. A few seek a nominal fee. The Prince William school district wants an estimated $40,000 to fill the information request, with 50 percent in advance to begin the work.

The district estimates that it will cost $34,305 to process credit card statements (718 hours at $32.50 per hour), $6,315 to process cell phone bills (102 hours at $32.50 per hour), and $75 to process the check registry (2 hours at $37.50 per hour).

Last year was shocked to get an invoice from Boston Public Schools, seeking $2,000 for an information request much longer than the one sent to Prince William County schools. In retrospect that seems like a bargain.

Our guess is that Prince William school officials don’t like to spend time sharing public information with the public, and they’ve found a very effective way to discourage citizens from bothering to seek data.

Virginia lawmakers should step in and put an end to this type of nonsense. While a small fee to cover actual costs may be appropriate, an estimate of $40,000 is another way of telling the public to get lost.

We hardly think that corresponds with  the spirit of transparency that prompted lawmakers in Virginia and across the nation to create freedom of information laws in the first place.

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12 Responses

  1. White Troll says:

    Turn the tables, only release tax money for clearly defined bills.

  2. Texasooner says:

    Perhaps the clerical tasks could be carried out by someone who doesn’t earn $37.50 per hour? That’s roughly $75,000 per year. Second, perhaps they have over-estimated the number of hours required…718 hours to provide credit card statements? That’s 18 weeks of work for one person? Really? 18 weeks?

    Finally, while a nominal charge for photocopying might be in order, as a publicly funded entity, they already have a duty to make records available so most of the cost burden of responding to requests is ‘already baked into the budget’. It appears they are trying to discourage someone looking into their spending. Kinda waves a yellow flag doesn’t it?

    • fnpmitchreturns says:

      no bull, why do they have to print it on paper? Because it is not as easy to search if you put it in a digital format and save it to DVD or disk.

  3. docky says:

    who wants to give the “for the kids” crowd more money and power?

    only psychotics.

  4. Jack_Kennedy says:

    its the school districts way of declaring executive privilege……………….anything for obama’s kind of people

  5. fnpmitchreturns says:

    and they wonder why they don’t have enough money for teaching …….

    what hasn’t the school ever heard of computers? all of this information should be readily available if they actually put it into their accounting system. I wonder if AEG News is looking for itemized cell phone calls? I would imagine that all they would have to do (if they keep the books correctly) is look their ledger which should include a description of the itemized bill…

  6. jsmithcsa says:

    Sounds like someone said “Executive Priviledge!” to me.

  7. Hey, gotta fund those failing pensions somehow!!
    You think a lawmaker is going to go in there and step on the unions toes??  Hahahahahahahaha!!

  8. Lie_Sniper says:

    Well how about that?  The school is all about pinching pennies and fretting over their budget when a citizen’s group wants some visibility into where a tax payer’s money goes but has no qualms about strip mining our earnings to fund their programs.

  9. I wonder how they’ll spend that $40,000

  10. credarkspace says:

    I guess its easy to get on the bandwagon and say the school is wrong, but at the end of the day some purported news organization that I certainly never heard of is asking them for information. If the news organization from Michigan doesn’t want to pay for the expenses required to get the information than the tax payers in Virginia have to? That doesn’t really seem fair. Surely there is some process you can go through to argue that the costs should be lower and require an invoice detailing the costs as well, but don’t just assume some “public entity” in another state is just going to foot the bill for every FOIA that comes across it’s threshold.

    I certainly would not want my South Carolina school district wasting money on fulfilling requests for some out-of-state “news” agency that I’ve never heard of, read, or cared about. I don’t even mean that as a jab to EAG, it’s just the truth of it.