RTK requests could cost Lehighton school district $100K
One of the first decisions for Lehighton Area School District’s new board of directors next month could be how to deal with mounting Right To Know requests.
Lehighton solicitor William Schwab said Monday night the district has received 21 RTK requests in the first 20 days of the month and asked that the board authorize overtime for personnel and hire up to five people at the substitute teacher rate to help respond to them.
“Some of the requests we can respond to easily, but there are others that are going to require lengthy amounts of research,” Schwab said. “However, we had one individual file 18 requests including all district correspondence with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, all correspondence with the Pennsylvania State Education Association, correspondence between Lehighton and its board members, all documents dealing with the stadium project and more.”
Schwab said the requests include a sizable amount of documents that have to be reviewed by hand for any possible redactions such as student names or addresses, teacher addresses or other privileged information.
“We’re estimating it could take up to $100,000 to respond to these requests,” Schwab said.
The district is allowed to charge for paper copies of information, but it can’t charge for research time under the Right To Know law.
Outgoing board member Stacey Duerst made a motion, which was unanimously approved, that authorizes the Lehighton’s RTK compliance officer to respond to all requests within budget constraints, but delays any funding decisions on overtime and added personnel until the board changeover in December.
The motion came after Duerst revealed one of the board members taking a seat, David Bradley, filed the largest recent request for information.
“These requests are not helping to educate my child or anybody’s child,” a tearful Duerst said. “(Bradley) has not even taken a seat yet and he is already causing chaos.”
Per the Right To Know law, the district has five days to respond to a request, during which it can request a 30-day extension. The current requests before the district could encompass a review of more than 30,000 pages of material, Schwab said.
When someone requests tax roll information, Schwab added, the district has to redact the addresses of people in certain professions such as a judge or police officer.
“What has me concerned is the district still needs to run while these requests are being researched,” Schwab said. “The requests involving PDE and PSEA involve every department in the district. That’s why I made the recommendation for overtime approval and extra personnel.”
Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver said while he’s cognizant of the district’s responsibility under the law, he’s concerned about the impact on students.
“What is more heart-wrenching to me than the money is that when our administrators and personnel are spending large amounts of time responding to overwhelming requests, it is time that is being taken away from our students,” Cleaver said. “Will this shut down our district? No. But this will have an impact on our kids and our ultimate goal is to educate them.”
Another outgoing board member, David Krause, also offered his thoughts.
“The unfortunate part is this information that is being requested could have been learned by coming to all of our open meetings and asking questions when it wouldn’t have cost the district a penny,” Krause said.
Lehighton will hold its annual reorganization meeting on Dec. 4.