Spartanburg: the high cost of “free” information

too-bad-foia-is-not-free-in-south-carolina
Actually, no.
If you want to know how your taxes are spent you will have to pay.

In recent weeks The Voice has emphasized the need for transparency in school district spending by highlighting excessive and thoughtless spending by key school district administrators.

Without mechanisms like online check registries, taxpayers have little opportunity to see exactly how districts spend their money. Even under the Freedom of Information Act, interested parties may find that “free” information can be quite expensive.

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) responses from the seven school districts in Spartanburg County show just how inaccessible district spending information is to concerned members of the community.

In June, a watchdog group sent out a FOIA request to every school district in the state requesting detailed information about district travel costs, reimbursements, payments to educational contractors, and catered meals. These expenses should already be categorized by district bean-counters who would simply need to print off the ledger spreadsheets.

Here is a list of how much money each of the seven districts required to fulfill the Freedom of Information Act request.

Spartanburg School District 1: $2,205.00 for copies, “clerical costs,” “professional costs,” and postage

Spartanburg School District 2: $1,970-$6,770 for copies, clerical, “management” costs, and “outside auditor.”

Spartanburg School District 3: $2,764 for copies and “analysis.”

Spartanburg School District 4: $2,000 for retrieving, copying, and postage.

Spartanburg School District 5: $625

Spartanburg School District 6: $ $2,470.64 for time and copies

Spartanburg School District 7: $945 for copies, clerical and management costs

$2,000 for “free” information about how public money is being spent?! This is simply absurd.

School districts are supposed to act as stewards of taxpayer resources, not autonomous, unaccountable bureucratic entities. When these publicly- funded districts withhold information through extensive bureaucratic red tape, they undermine their own purpose: educating children. The varying and arbitrary amounts demanded by the Spartanburg school districts indicate just how out of touch they are with the economic realities faced by business and families in the community.

Additionally, these costly demands and delays in response point to total financial disarray within the districts. What business owner is not able to hit the “print” key on their computer and clearly provide information on the business’s expenses, costs, and profits for the year? Without the pressure of real transparency and accountability, public school districts have nothing compelling them to be able to do likewise. Funding will still come pouring in regardless of poor performance or financial mismanagement.

The next time parents wonder why only 45 cents of every dollar set aside for education goes to the classroom, they can be reminded that the other 55 cents goes to fuel the cumbersome bureaucracy that can’t provide them free copies of the district they pay for.

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2 responses to “Spartanburg: the high cost of “free” information

  1. There is good reason that this information is kept a secret.

    We have never filed due process or filed suit in relation to formal State and Federal complaints of our child not being provided a FAPE. The agencies did find that a FAPE was not being provided.

    The school district began bringing their attorney to regular meetings. This attorney is being paid using tax payer money that is otherwise education funding.

    This is attorney is easily past the six figure mark just on my child alone. With the envolvement of this attorney, my child’s educational services have gone from not recieving the amount required by law to recieving -0- services for three consecutive years.

    When you read about parents who are reimbursed legal expenses in a law suit, you will never see a disclosure that specifies how much educational dollars were paid by the school district to represent the school district and try to “protect” the school district from having to comply with IDA and ADA laws and regulations.

    I am told that whatever amount the parents win in reimbursement from their attorneys who generally offer a reduced rate, you can at least double that amount or tripple it to get a ballpark of what the school district has allocated for their attorneys.
    The school’s attorney services are guaranteed even though the IDEA was never meant to guarantee wealth to local lawfirms that represent school districts.
    SssHHH! They don’t want you to know; and for good reason.

    It would be difficult to act like a victim with State budget cuts if the public were aware of how many hundreds of thousands of educational dollars are being delivered to high dollar law firms on a silver platter in exchange for protection from consequenses of non compliance of safeaurds and regulations that are only in place to PROTECT our kids.

  2. Pingback: Some Districts take FOIA seriously « The Voice for School Choice

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