Thursday, February 3, 2011

EASD Wastes Taxpayers' Money Suing Morning Call Reporter Instead of Releasing Public Documents Under Right-to-Know Law

What is the school district trying to hide? 
And why are they wasting our money in a recession to do it?

Posted by: Noël Jones

This is unbelievable--check this out:

According to an article by Morning Call reporter Riley Yates, another Morning Call reporter, Christopher Baxter, who covers the Easton beat, recently requested all emails to and from Superintendent McGinley of the Easton Area School District, as well as all members of the school board, for the month of October, as is his legal right (just as it is ours) under Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know law. The district refused (even though they are bound legally to release them) and The Morning Call appealed to Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records to rule on the refusal. They backed him up and directed the school district to hand them over. So now the EASD, in their infinite wisdom (and transparency) has decided to spend our tax dollars suing The Morning Call in Northampton County Court to avoid turning over the records.

For those of us who have been attending school board meetings over the past year, listening to McGinley's speeches about how important it is to the administration to cut wasteful spending so as to not have to raise taxes on us, this is icing on the cake. No--wait--I mean--salt on the wound. No--I mean: an insult and an outrage. For two reasons:

1. Transparency--This is second time that the district has been exposed for trying to avoid compliance with PA Sunshine Laws--for more on this, see my earlier post. Likewise, reports from other resident readers have let me know that the district has been reticent on at least two other occasions in releasing public documents under the Right-to-Know law.  This should lead residents to wonder--What are they trying to hide?

2. Wasting Taxpayer Money (especially on frivolous lawsuits)--in the last year our district has wasted taxpayer money: a) supporting EASD Solicitor Alan McFall in his personal suit against the Express-Times (see my earlier post),  b) defending itself against the ACLU lawsuit of two middle school students who were suspended for wearing "I (heart) Boobies" bracelets to raise breast cancer awareness (previous post), instead of just re-thinking that suspension, and c) now we're suing The Morning Call for legally requesting public records?

Readers--this behavior will continue until we start coming out en masse to put these administrators in check. One thing I would like to know--was the school board ever asked to approve the use of taxpayer dollars for legal fees connected to this lawsuit, or is somebody pulling invisible strings behind the scenes again? As I understand it, our elected school board is supposed to be given the opportunity to approve or not approve expenditures. If not, somebody please set me straight. Did our duly-elected school board ever vote on this waste of our money?


David Caines said...

wow, I'm shocked...our school board which has shown utter disdain for the law breaking it yet again?
I'm going to simply ask for an NOTA in the next school board election. Lets clear the field and put in all new people.
Clearly EASd thinks itself a law unto itself and until we vote then out they have reason to believe it.
I will be voting none of the above,
It is somewhat unfair to our new folks, but a drastic change needs to be made here.
just my two cents,

tunsie said...

I cant comment on this matter,mainly because I dont know what the EASD does....but from the name arent they the over see ers of the school children...THAT should be the priority.....THE CHILDEN....OUR FUTURE......tunsie

noel jones said...

David--there are two school board members that have been fighting HARD to cut wasteful spending at every meeting and also fought hard not to see teachers get fired--these two should definitely NOT be ousted:

Kerri Leonard-Ellison
Jen Holzberger

These two have consistently been on the taxpayers side, trying to root out missteps and waste by the board and administrators.

One important note here: the school board and the administrators are two separate things altogether. It is the administrators that have done this, and they are not elected, but it is our elected school board that has to keep the administration in check. Holzberger and Ellison have been doing that the whole way.

I want to know if this expenditure was ever put before our duly-elected board. Does anyone know? If the board voted on it, then we can find out who voted how. If not, we need to demand to know why not.

Holzberger brought up recently that she is still trying to figure out (with no help from the administration a la Joe Kish) why certain invoices are coming before them for approval when the expenditure itself was never brought before our board for approval--in other words, somebody is pulling strings, skipping protocol and hooking up his buddies.

Considering there are 9 members of the board, it is VERY IMPORTANT not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. These two have been outnumbered on many votes, but it would be completely irresponsible and counterproductive to kick out these newer members that have been working so hard for us.

noel jones said...

In other words, we need to send Holzberger and Ellison some back-up, not vote them out.

noel jones said...

Yes, Tunsie, that's what they SHOULD be doing, but instead the administrators are just looking out for themselves, protecting their salaries, sweetheart deals to their cronies, etc.

Why should they be fighting so hard not to release public records if everything they are doing is above-board?

David Caines said...

how does one get rid of addmin?

tunsie said...

this has nothing to do with this but in sydney at my cousins childrens school....they buy the food by bulk that they need for the week thaneveryday 6-8 mothers volunteer in the kitchen......

Buckaroo said...

It has long been common knowledge that Joe Kish has been ruling the EASD for some years now. He is, and has been, nothing more than a mean-spirited bully that considers the School District his personal domain.

As it seems that he is planning for retirement, it is going to be interesting to discover who he plans to anoint as his replacement.

Laureston said...

It would be great if everyone who reads this blog and lives in the EASD district comes out to the next board meeting to voice their outrage and disgust. I believe the meetings are on the 3rd Thursday of each month. Noel, please correct if I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

Lauretson - the next meeting is on February 24th - the last Thursday of each month.

Anonymous said...

There is a meeting on February 24, but the next meeting is Wednesday, February 9th. The January meeting was postponed to the 9th due to snow.

This is when they will vote on the preliminary budget.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Didn't the Admin. also refuse to immediately release the listing contract for Cottingham so that it could be evaluated to determine and confirm whether or not there was a penalty to the district for withdrawing it from the market? Joe Kish verbally indicated there was, but I'd STILL like to know what the contract says. What is the status on that info request right now?

Amazing how we all have to wait around to be honored by certain people's retirements instead of being able to oust them efficiently for the good of all concerned...Mubarak in Egypt, Joe Kish, a certain Easton code department director?


noel jones said...

Anon--thanks for the Feb. meeting date info.

Does anyone know if there is a provision in the Right-to-Know laws that protects the privacy of the public? This is key, and broadens the debate, because if anyone and their dog can request ALL emails from the district from a start date to an end date, what's to keep one nosy resident from trying to find out whether or not his neighbor has been in touch with the school board re: a concern about his kid? I am going to try to look into this, but if anyone out there already knows, and especially if you can produce a link to the doc, that would be great.

Otherwise, the district will understandably be freaking out at the potential for an inordinate amount of administration time (that we as taxpayers would pay for) to redact every personal bit of information from every email from the public to protect their privacy.

I think the EASD's error here is that they reacted with their usual knee-jerk "how dare you" attitude and refused to release them at all, rather than asking that the request be re-submitted to not include emails to and from members of the public. But before even jumping to that conclusion, we need to be clear on whether "all emails sent and received" includes emails from the public, or whether the privacy of those is ensured in the Right-to-Know law.

If anyone knows, please post!

noel jones said...

if there is not a privacy protection for the public in the Right-to-Know law, this debate will be complex and this could end up being one of those cases that leads to the law being re-written...

noel jones said...

It does appear that the Right-to-Know law does cover protections of an individual in the public, so that requesting all emails would automatically exclude emails from constituents--however, it's interesting (and problematic) to note that in Exclusion 29, they say "General Assembly" so I imagine that there will be some arguing about whether the Right-to-Know law was intended to protect all members of the public who communicated as constituents, or only constituents communicating with state representatives and senators:

(28) A record or information:

(i) identifying an individual who applies for or receives social services; or

(ii) relating to the following:

(A) the type of social services received by an individual;

(B) an individual's application to receive social services, including a record or information related to an agency decision to grant, deny, reduce or restrict benefits, including a quasi-judicial decision of the agency and the identity of a caregiver or others who provide services to the individual; or

(C) eligibility to receive social services, including the individual's income, assets, physical or mental health, age, disability, family circumstances or record of abuse.

(29) Correspondence between a person and a member of the General Assembly and records accompanying the correspondence which would identify a person that requests assistance or constituent services. This paragraph shall not apply to correspondence between a member of the General Assembly and a principal or lobbyist under 65 Pa.C.S. Ch. 13A (relating to lobbyist disclosure).

(30) A record identifying the name, home address or date of birth of a child 17 years of age or younger.

noel jones said...

Here are some additional protections for the public:

(b) Exceptions. — Except as provided in subsections (c) and (d), the following are exempt from access by a requester under this act:
(1) A record the disclosure of which:

(i) would result in the loss of Federal or State funds by an agency or the Commonwealth; or

(ii) would be reasonably likely to result in a substantial and demonstrable risk of physical harm to or the personal security of an individual.


I think with these protections in place, the EASD should be be free to not hand over emails from parents, taxpayers and other constituents to school board members.

But I am not and attorney--any other opinions?

CAT said...

The next EASD Board Meeting has been rescheduled for 6:30 PM on Tuesday, February 15th, with a Snow Date of Wednesday, February 16th. There is not a School Board Meeting scheduled for tomorrow, February 9th, nor is there a Board meeting scheduled for Thursday February 24th. The rescheduled date of February 15th is reflected on the EASD website,, on their ecalendar. The meeting on February 15th is a make-up meeting for the canceled all-day budget meeting, and for the canceled January Board meeting, and it replaces the normal February meeting previously scheduled for February 24th. Confused? Frustrated? Join the club. But please mark your calendar and plan to attend the EASD Board Meeting now scheduled for 6:30 PM next Tuesday, February 15th, at the Easton Area Education Center, 1801 Bushkill Drive.

David Caines said...

Cool, finally one I might be able to make it to.
Noel, thanks for the info.