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The Cost of Public Information in the Capistrano School District: $269,064.95

A request by Patch for copies of communication between district staffers and trustees about the restoration of teacher salaries and school days is met with resistance.

I learned firsthand last week that the cost of getting public information from the Capistrano Unified School District comes with a big price—$269,064.95.

I believe that this over-the-top price tag is the latest in a series of moves to deter Patch from learning how the school board  and what message the district wanted the public to hear about those restorations.

It would take 3,272.50 hours at a cost of $82.22 hourly to retrieve the copies of the communications Patch is attempting to obtain between district staffers, trustees, Teamsters, unions, etc., since December about the restoration, district spokesman Marcus Walton wrote in an e-mail to Patch on March 9. Walton said that because the district's backup and storage policy for e-mail was created for disaster recovery and discovery purposes, it does not have an e-mail archiving server solution for easy access.

Though we had a hunch the cost of the information was incredible, we wanted confirmation from our legal department before we published the district's response. We were assured this morning that it’s indeed outrageous.

Walton's response does not address those e-mails that still reside in mailboxes, and handwritten memos or other notes not delivered via e-mail that would not require extrication. Under state law, the district cannot bill for staff time for retrieving those. While the public-records law does indeed allow public agencies to charge for programming or extraction work to satisfy a request such as ours, we believe the amount of extracation has been bloated to an inaccurate figure.

In light of , which is devoted to promoting discussion about the importance of open government and freedom of information, I feel especially compelled to share with you the other resistance we've met lately.

"I am miffed.” “I am very frustrated.” “I am not happy," Walton has told us about this new workload created by our request for information. He would be too busy, he said, to answer any questions from Patch until the request was fulfilled, and added that he would not be able to take his children to Disneyland that weekend.

Later, he told our education reporter that he "controls"  her. It was an off-the-cuff  remark said in jest, we think, but it sheds insight into how he perceives his job of disseminating public information.

I was told this morning that we're causing "more and more" problems for the district and that he's growing weary of attempting to defend our news operation.

Clarification: In the paragraph above, Walton said the "more and more'" problems he referred to dealt with Patch reports of alleged Brown Act violations by the district, not the public records request.

We don't need Walton to defend our website or our reporting. We're not here to please him or anyone else at the district. We're here to tell our readers the truth, whether it's good or bad.

The $269,064.95 is obviously too high of a cost for us to bear. We've condensed our request and are working to obtain the information as quickly as possible.

Capo mom March 17, 2011 at 12:57 AM
It is my belief that CUSD should have followed the law. It certainly doesn't look like that is their intention. CU @ the meeting.
Reality Check March 17, 2011 at 01:21 AM
OMG! Another one! How many people are willing to accept what the district says? (Four?) And you have "no question whatever" that the district is making a "pathetic attempt" to hide something. (So you will go to the meeting with a closed mind?) The district has "no prospect of digging out"? You know the "projected deficit" is a projection, right? And finally, THIS IS NOT A REPORT OF ANYTHING BUT AN OPINION! Jenna, this district has been a political minefield due to these anti-public education vultures. Thanks for feeding the fire. (Please, please, please, note the sarcasm.) There's a whole new generation of readers in the public school pipeline. You need to be better than this to tap it and save your industry. Logical, thinking people are already outnumbered and disgusted. And you are to blame.
Capo Parent Too March 17, 2011 at 01:23 AM
So you believe they are Intentionally BREAKING the law, that is a HUGE accusation and considering the fact they are taking the letter and lawsuit seriously by having this open meeting says to me they are going out of their way to be open. Again, something the last board did not due.
concerned parent March 17, 2011 at 01:45 AM
Reality Check, "logical, thinking people" understand the miserable situation the state of California is in and the equally dismal fiscal condition of the district. The only "projection" part of the deficit is just how bad it's going to be. Logical, thinking people also have trouble understanding the "logic" of restoring $7 million in such times, behind closed doors, with no public notification, and want some answers. The only reason the meeting is happening tonight is because of concerned citizens who forced it to happen. Patch is doing exactly what it should be doing as a journalistic watchdog. Thank you for your continued reporting on this issue. I was very ready to be open to this newly reconstituted board and hoped both the shenanigans and the dissension would be over, but I've been appalled by what's transpired in just a few short months.
Capo Parent Too March 17, 2011 at 01:55 AM
They are DOING BETTER, the last board ignored the accusations of Brown Act Violations and did not attempt to do anything to correct them. This board is and when they did, two trustees WALKED out of the meeting with their lawyer. So now who has something to hide? This board has already shown in the last two weeks that they are different than the last board by having THIS MEETING!

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