School district gives up records to non-profit

School district gives up records to non-profit

Reclaim New York, a non-profit that seeks to improve government transparency, announced last Wednesday that the Manhasset School District has turned over financial records after a months-long legal dispute.

In June, the organization filed a lawsuit against the district for declining to release expense records from 2014, an action taken against several other school districts and governments, including the Elmont and Southampton school districts and the Town of Oyster Bay.

“It took Manhasset School District half a year, bad press, and a lawsuit, just to release information that shows how they are spending taxpayer dollars,” Reclaim New York’s Executive Director Brandon Muir said. “This is like turning in a term paper the semester after it’s due, they must know better. The district’s unlawful performance on transparency earns a failing grade.”

The non-profit called the Manhasset School District one of the “three worst actors” of nearly 50 government organizations that did not comply with their request to release records, during a press conference on June 7.

The school district claimed Reclaim New York’s request was unreasonable because of the amount of personal information that would have to be redacted before the records could be made public.

In a letter released on Tuesday, Manhasset Superintendent Charles Cardillo said Muir’s statement “does not correctly state the facts and ignores the district’s longstanding dedication to fiscal transparency.”

Cardillo said the district opposed the request from the start, and declined to hand over the records to protect the privacy of students, parents and employees.

“This was not an effort on the district’s part to withhold information from the district’s residents, but because the original request was so needlessly excessive in its scope that the district would have had to make an unreasonable effort to collect, review and redact the vast quantity of information and data requested,” he said.

Cardillo said the non-profit modified its request, reducing the volume and narrowing the scope of information. 

He said this was an acknowledgment that their original request was unreasonable, and has called for Reclaim New York to recognize it made an error in requesting the documents.

“We don’t blame them for trying to save face,” Muir said. “But the best way to serve the public here is to acknowledge that Reclaim’s request, which fully complied with the standards of the law and the Committee on Open Government, was legitimate and deserved to be answered in a complete and timely fashion.” 

Muir said it’s concerning that the district “appears to be bragging about their inability to export information that basic accounting software can handle in a few minutes.”

Of the government bodies that Reclaim New York requested expense records from, 75 percent were able to fully comply, he said.

Reclaim New York is continuing litigation with the school district to obtain reimbursement for its legal fees that they said would set a precedent for future Freedom of Information Law Requests, a release said.

“It’s critical that we set the precedent in court and through the legal process so that residents don’t have to pay thousands of dollars just to get an answer on how their tax dollars are spent,” Reclaim New York’s communications director Doug Kellogg said.

The Elmont School District eventually complied with the FOIL request, releasing records in late June. 

“Their agreement to pay legal fees, and finally make the requested documents public, is an admission that the school district was wrong to deny repeated requests for basic spending data,” a statement from Reclaim New York states. “It is also a victory for government transparency for every New Yorker. Our transparency laws were written to ensure no New Yorker is forced to spend time and money just to find out how their own tax dollars are being spent. Reclaim New York will ensure that law is a reality.”

The non-profit is currently suing the Town of Babylon, Town of Islip, and Town of Oyster Bay for information requests.

by Chris Adams

No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here