separate moves evidently were coincidental, although Thomas
Lapinski, the board member who had a recent request denied, thus
raising the issue, voted against the revised outsider policy.
matters at its meeting on Feb. 23, the board:
from several students a request for more stringent evaluation of
what the chief financial officer promised would be the final
version of a budget for this fiscal year;
that the effort to secure grants is running well ahead of a year
off on renovation plans for Forwood Elementary;
Transferred money to the Concord High renovation project to
cover the cost of fixing an unexpected building defect;
Considered new union contracts covering maintenance and
custodial workers; and
for modification a proposed policy governing early termination
of contracted teachers and administrators.
president Nancy Doorey said the revised Freedom of Information
Act policy does no more than bring district practice into
compliance with the underlying state law. The anticipated new
policy regarding board members' requests, she said, would merely
codify what already is standard practice.
Ellen Cooper said there was no intent in the revision of the
information policy, which dates back to 2000, to infringe on the
public's right to access public documents.
revisions primarily set a 50˘-a-page fee for copying documents
and require the requestor to pay the dollar equivalent of staff
time needed to excise confidential data from documents
containing matter that is in the public domain. Electronic
documents would cost $1, unchanged from the previous policy.
doesn't say we 'may' require, it said we 'must' require" payment
of a copying fee, Cooper said.
the law provides access only to original documents, not copies,
requestors must come in person to the district office during
normal business hours to inspect the originals before obtaining
desired copies, and cannot ask to be sent copies by mail or
electronic transmission, Cooper explained.
request were for a copy of an original document, that would have
to be "generated," she said. Then it falls under the purview of
a separate Brandywine policy covering requests for information
that does not presently exist in document form or in the
requested format. Since that is not covered by law, that policy
confers broader discretion on district officials to decide what
should be released. It also requires the requestor to pay the
equivalent cost of producing a new document.
an example, Cooper said that someone requesting a tracking of a
line in the district's monthly financial reports over a period
of time would have the option of being allowed to see all of
those entire documents under the law or to ask for and be
willing to pay the cost of extracting the data and producing a
new document containing just the desired information and accept
a determination of whether having a staff person do that was
reasonable and not overly time consuming.
policy also specifies that only a "citizen of the state of
Delaware shall be granted access to the district's public
records." The state law has the same caveat. A source in the
legal field outside the school district told Delaforum, however,
that it is uncertain what constitutes state citizenship.
Residency, for instance, does not confer citizenship at the
told the board that she dealt with that issue in connection with
three of the five requests she has handled since taking over as
the district's Freedom of Information Act officer which came
from organizations. She asked if they were incorporated in
Delaware. When the response was in the negative, access was
denied, she said.
policy was being revised "so dollars intended for the education
of children of the district go to the education of children of
the district," Doorey said. "It's not concern over volume [of
requests]. It was concern over whether we were violating state
questioned the 50˘ fee, which Doorey and Cooper both said was
within the range of what the state attorney general has
determined to be reasonable. Doorey acknowledged during that
discussion that state Department of Education policy, dating
back to the 1970s, provides for a 10˘-a-page fee and that that
is seldom actually collected.
By way of
illustration, the agenda document for the meeting, which is a
public document covered by the law, contained 173 pages. Copies
were distributed free at the meeting but, theoretically, a
request for it could cost someone either $86.50 or whatever it
is calculated it costs in the way of paper and machine and staff
time to run 173 pages through a copying machine.
Pollins, a district resident and lawyer by profession, urged
the board to reject the revised policy on the grounds that "50˘
[a page] is a little steep" and that it was unreasonable to
require him to come from his office in Philadelphia during the
workday. "If they are public records, they should be easily
available to the public," he said. Williams was the only member
of the public to speak during the comment portion of the
sparsely attended meeting.
could prove academic in the short run, however. Doorey and
superintendent Bruce Harter said the district is currently
exploring ways to post all documents considered to be of general
public interest on its Internet site. That also is being
considered as a better way to distribute material which now goes
out each week in packet form to board members.
did not explain why he ended up voting against adopting the
revised policy. Susan Skelly said later that she abstained from
that vote, although she specifically said during the discussion
that she had no objection to the policy, because she questioned
the need for the district to have separate approaches to
providing public documents and information not in document form.
Craig Gilbert did not attend the meeting, which meant the
revised policy was approved by the minimum four votes.
dispute over board member access came after Harter apparently
rejected as too time consuming a request for Lapinski for some
information. Lapinski said he withdrew the request after Harter
told him it would take significant time to respond. But Lapinski
called the matter to the attention of the other board members in
a memo. Neither man said what the information sought was.
raised the issue as an unposted 'other' item on the agenda and
said that the board had previously agreed that such requests
should be considered by the entire board and be binding on the
administration only if a majority agreed their worth outweighed
the effort needed to respond.
us has the authority on our own to redirect staff time," she
said. "We do not exist as individuals; we only exist as a
board," David Adkins said.
said he has never requested anything that he did not share with
the other board members. He objected to the matter being brought
up at the meeting, saying, "I thought we had agreed there would
be no surprises [at] open meetings."
Lapinski noted that there was no policy covering the situation,
there was discussion over whether there should be one. In the
end, it was decided, without a formal vote, to have Cooper deal
with the matter and recommend whether it would be best handled
with a part of an existing policy or as a new one.
students who addressed the board were reporting on the most
recent meeting of the district's Student Advisory Council, which
represents its high and middle schools.
Childs said the students want administrator evaluators to
distinguish between teachers who may be liked but are relatively
ineffective and those not so popular who do get the material
across. "They have to do more than just rattle off facts," she
Grasso said that teacher evaluations are not representative of
actual performance. "When they know you're coming, the clean off
their desk, change their lesson plan and even their appearance.
They should be judged on what they really are."
Howie said teachers "should hold workshops and things" on
Saturdays or during the summer rather than turn their classes
over to substitutes. "Some students like substitutes but most
think the [regular] teacher ought to be there," she said.
called for a return to numeric rather than alphabetic grades as
a way to measure variations in student performance and class
standing. Andrew Meyer calls for a standard curriculum so that
students in all three district high schools receive the same
material and said that middle school students objected to dress
all attend Mount Pleasant. Meyer goes to Concord. Doorey praised
them for coming to the meeting and said their report was
informative and valuable.
'final' budget for the year ending June 30 contains, as
Delaforum previously reported, an upward revision of $116,441 as
the result of a midyear change in the way DelDOE finances
staffing a special education pilot project in which the
Brandywine district is participating. That will not result in
any change in the program or the personnel involved, but will
enable the district to restore cuts in its extra-time and
professional development programs, according to David Blowman,
the chief financial officer.
Administrator Judy Curtis told the board that federal, state and
private grants received from July 1 through the end of calendar
2003 totaled nearly $9.9 million. That compares to $9.4 million
received in all of the fiscal year ended June 30, 2003. The more
recent figure included $7.1 million for federal programs and
$2.6 million from the state. Curtis said M.B.N.A. bank provided
97% of the private money.
Forwood renovation is to begin after the school year ends in
June and take a year to compete. As previously reported, the
project includes a redesign of the driveway and a new
distribution of classrooms, including what amounts to a separate
authorized transfer of $800,000 of unspent money from the Harlan
Intermediate School renovation fund to pay for fixing a problem
with exterior masonry discovered during this year's renovation
of Concord High. Administrator Jeffrey Edmison said that, except
for some window work, the Harlan project is finished and the
money to be transferred is not needed there.
contracts were discussed by the board in executive session
behind closed doors. District public information officer Wendy
Lapham had not responded to a Delaforum request for information
about their contents or status as this article was being
district policies were renewed with minor changes. However, one
spelling out in detail the procedure to be followed in order to
terminate a teacher or administrator covered by a contract was
tabled for further work after Lapinski pointed out that the
details did not include a provision "to protect the rights of