Virginia School District Charges Watchdogs $40,000 for Freedom of Information Request
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 EAGnews.org, 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 EAGnews.org 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 EAGnews.org 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.