FORT WAYNE, Ind. – Is it any wonder parents are losing faith in public schools?
Last winter, EAGnews submitted a number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to Indiana school corporations to analyze the amount of politicking that occurred using taxpayer dollars during the 2012 election campaign.
Specifically, we asked for copies of school employee emails referencing Mike Pence and John Gregg, both candidates for governor, and Tony Bennett and Glenda Ritz, candidates for state superintendent of public instruction, which were sent or received on school email accounts.
Several school corporations rejected our request as either being “too broad,” despite the fact that we provided four names and a specific date range for such communications. Others said that the law didn’t apply to such a request and thus denied it.
But the Fort Wayne Community Schools district – a hotbed for union political activity – surprisingly agreed to comply with our request.
The original records request was submitted December 19, 2012 and sought employee email communications regarding the four candidates between September 1, 2012 and November 9, 2012.
Krista Stockman, public information officer for the school district, responded nearly three months later – March 12, 2013 to be exact, to inform us nearly 8,000 employee emails fell within the parameters of our request. Because some of them supposedly contained student information, Stockman told EAGnews that each one would need to be reviewed and private information redacted before they could be released.
Stockman estimated that process would take “52 weeks.”
Nearly 52 weeks later, Stockman wrote EAGnews again on March 5, 2014, informing us:
“Since it’s been a while, I wanted to update you on my progress with the request for e-mails related to John Gregg, Mike Pence, Glenda Ritz and Tony Bennett. Unfortunately, I have had a computer change, and in the process, many of the documents were lost from my computer. I am working to retrieve them, but this has been a set-back. I apologize and will work as quickly as possible to provide the documents requested.”
She provided no estimate as to how long it would take the district to fulfill the request.
We doubt we will ever see the records, which would enable the public to determine the extent of the political activity their tax dollars were paying for. And we’ve come to the conclusion that Stockman, and anyone else at FWCS supposedly working on this, are merely giving the appearance of trying to act in accordance with the law, not because they actually intend to turn over the documents, or that they believe the public has a right to know what school employees are doing with taxpayer-funded equipment.
The lesson to be learned here? States should put more teeth into their public information laws, so that schools and other governmental entities that play these sorts of games would have to pay a stiff penalty. The public has a right to know what it wants to know, but government officials obviously find ways to withhold their cooperation. Such behavior should be completely unacceptable.