Monday, May 10, 2010

OPRA Request Denied for School Information- Interim Superintendent Actions Questioned Concerning Overstepping of Authority

The following letter is re-posted without editing or comment. It was posted in The Hoboken Reporter on May 1, 2010 and centers on the legality of a request for school information. The data referenced that was posted on 1/1/2008 was made publicly available and without request, under Superintendent Raslowsky- also known as "BC". Custodians are paid a fair and equitable wage for the numerous services they provide to the children of Hoboken. They keep the facilities safe and functional, they keep the technology and data infrastructure secure, they assist in keeping the instructional technology functioning, they keep us warm in the winter and comfortable during the warmer months, they keep our many sport facilities operational not only for the children but for the many adult recreational groups in Hoboken. The custodians are a integral and important aspect of any school district and the education of our children. No one gets "free health care"- it is a fair and negotiated benefit arrived through collective bargaining. To sarcastically state (as the letter writer below does) that these men and women do not work as hard as those in the "private sector with advanced degrees" is classist, patronizing, and ultimately misinformed and unfortunate. But, the letter DOES raise interesting issues of overstepping authority for OPRA requests. The writer is correct that such requests are a matter of law and are not at the discretion of any school district official.

You can read the entire official Open Public Records Act by clicking HERE.

Dear Editor:

In the movie “The Cartel” the Hoboken Board of Education President in 2005 Theresa Minutillo stated that some janitors earned six-figure salaries. Yes, you read it correctly, janitors earned six-figure salaries. On top of the six-figure salaries, like all other employees (including those at the “poverty” level), they get hefty longevity pay, free health care, eye, dental, prescription benefits, full pensions, long vacations and many holidays and personal and sick days.

To those naïve taxpayers trying to get ahead in the private sector with advanced degrees, hard work, and long hours in the office, you were wrong all along. The key to financial success turned out to be a janitor job in the Hoboken school system.

The employees associations routinely dispute such salaries as false rumors and misunderstandings. For example only last week the president of the Hoboken School Employees Association HSEA Joe Vitale wrote in a letter to the editor that “there has been a lot written and a lot that is misunderstood about our membership”. He further wrote that according to the HSEA salary guide the HSEA members’ salaries are “near or at the poverty level” not more than $63,124.

In order to avoid all these “misunderstandings” and to get straight to the facts I went to the Board of Education and filed an OPRA request for public records. To make sure that my request fully complied with the law, I copied the verbatim language from the provision of the OPRA statute N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10 into my request: “name, title, position, salary, payroll record, length of service, date of separation and the reason therefor, and the amount and type of any pension received”.

This was a month ago and I still have not received the requested public records. Instead I received a “courtesy” response from the Superintendent Mr. Carter with excuses why he could not comply with my request. But disclosing the requested public records is not a matter of courtesy. It is a matter of law. We, the taxpayers, are not paying the Superintendent a $187,000 salary to conceal from us public records, but to comply with the law and to disclose them. Moreover, there was no need for the Superintendent to get involved in a simple routine request for public records. The law places this responsibility on the custodian of the public records, not on the Superintendent. This raises serious questions: Why is the Superintendent getting involved? Why is he trying to conceal public records in violation of the law?

Moreover, there is no reason why this information should not be disclosed on the Board of Education web site. Currently only obsolete information dated 1/1/2008 about the salaries of only eight school system employees is available on the web side. Then the Superintendent will not have to “take time away from the education of the children” to write “courtesy” responses to requestors, and the HSEA president will not have to write letters explaining the “misunderstandings” because there will be no more “misunderstandings”.

Vesselin Dittrich

picture: Interim Superintendent Peter Carter

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