School District wants $4,400 for public records

skinney@keynoter.comNovember 2, 2013 

Continuing to investigate the circumstances around a $10,000 employee raise for a Monroe County School District administrator, district watchdog Larry Murray has been met with a potential bill of $4,400 for public records he requested from district officials. | He says it's the district's latest effort to thwart public access to documents and information but the superintendent says that's not the case.

Specifically, Big Pine Key resident Murray wants to know how Director of Accountability and Assessment Christina McPherson, who in August also took on the role of Poinciana Elementary School principal, received a $10,000 raise.

Murray maintains Superintendent Mark Porter misled the School Board at an Aug. 13 meeting where it was addressed and has filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General.

Porter denies he misled board members about McPherson's raise.

Attempting to put the pieces together, on Oct. 15 Murray put in a five-fold request for e-mails between June 1 and Oct. 15:

  • E-mails from Porter to McPherson.

  • E-mails from McPherson to Porter.

  • E-mails from Human Resources Director Ramon Dawkins to McPherson.

  • E-mails from McPherson to Dawkins.

  • Any e-mails referencing McPherson. Wednesday, Karen Hladik, an executive secretary, estimated that responding to the first four items would cost a minimum of $550 and that adding in the fifth item would be "possibly seven times as much." District Director of Operations Pat LaFere said a search of e-mails for the first four items yielded more than 2,000 results.

    He said a review for redacting personal employee and/or student information is done by an employee earning $30 per hour with the assumption the reviewer can read 120 e-mails hourly.

    "Kind of looks to me like the district is doing its best to discourage public records requests," Murray said.

    In September, Murray sued the district related to another round of records requests concerning McPherson that was dismissed by Chief Monroe County Circuit Court Judge David Audlin.

    Murray said that based on the new fees, he "would not be surprised if this wound up before Judge [David] Audlin" again.

    Porter has a broad explanation.

    "Prior to release, all records must be reviewed to avoid the release of data that may fall within the statutory exemptions. In the case of a request that generates a significant number of responses, this review can be very time-consuming and thereby expensive," he said.

    School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths said he wants a case-law review of "the reasonableness standard" to determine "what, in fact, is a reasonable amount of time to respond to these things and how much it should cost."

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