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Phil in the Blank A column by Phil Custodio


Check the law



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October 19, 2011 - Smart warriors the world over turn their opponents' tactics against them.

So it is with admiration that I watch Clarkston school officials and advocates use yellow-journalism methods against Dawn Schaller and the Clarkston News regarding Freedom of Information Act requests.

They ask, what's the real story behind the News and Dawn Schaller? What are your real motivations? What did you know and when did you know it?

I get it that's what we're doing, so how does it feel, tabloid boy?

What's sad about these charges and countercharges is it's all unnecessary.

The Freedom of Information Act requires school districts and other official bodies to provide information, but it includes plenty of information controls, too. The school district isn't as helpless as the superintendent and others seem to think.

It allows the district to charge for actual costs for labor, search, examination, review, and deletion and separation of exempt from nonexempt information.

When calculating labor, the district can't charge more than the lowest hourly rate, but the law goes on to say that rate applies to the "lowest paid public body employee capable of retrieving the information necessary to comply with a request under this act."

This means the lowest paid central office employee, not the lowest paid employee overall.

Also, as Cory Johnston points out in his letter on page 20A, the law allows the district to make reasonable rules to "prevent excessive and unreasonable interference with the discharge of its functions."

If that's the case, make the rules. People will probably argue about whether they're reasonable, but that would be better than arguing why a newspaper would want information on the local school district.

Now's certainly not the time for less scrutiny of any government body, including the school district.

The School Board is considering a new program to teach Spanish in preschool-fifth grade, costing up to $750,000. And, after borrowing millions to wire the district for the Internet, it very may well look to borrow millions more for wireless Internet.

These and other stories need more questions and answers, not less.

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