Published December 20, 2012
A watchdog group claims Wisconsin officials are stonewalling its bid for information about a state agency’s contract with a controversial California company by charging $20,000 for the public documents.
The Education Action Group Foundation last month sent a Freedom of Information Act request to Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction, requesting for all documents relating to the state education agency’s relationship with the San Francisco-based Pacific Educational Group. The California company, which has provided cultural sensitivity training to Wisconsin public school teachers for four years, has claimed that rewarding hard work penalizes some minority groups.
“We’re trying to get a handle on what is being taught by PEG and what is its the value to students and actual classroom learning,” said Kyle Olson, EAG’s founder and CEO. “How many educators are involved? Is there a timeline for its conclusion. We want to know why this sort of thing is deserving of taxpayer dollars."
The Wisconsin agency agreed to turn over the documents it deemed covered under the broad request, but said it would cost Olson's group a staggering sum.
“We are following the law and responding to a very broad request," said DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper. He said the request covers 104,275 pages, which at 15 cents per copy, comes to $15,641. Throw in the 173 manhours, at $25.02 per hour, needed to compile the documents, and the cost rises to to $19,969.46, DPI Chief Legal Counsel Janet Jenkins told FoxNews.com.
Earlier this year, a Portland, Ore., educator trained in PEG's brand of multiculturalism defended its teachings by citing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in lunchrooms as a subtle form of racism against minorities. Those claims, and the knowledge that the Oregon city spent $526,901 in one year on PEG's services, prompted Olson to try to find out what Wisconsin, was paying PEG - and what it was getting in return.
“If Portland spent a half million dollars in a single year with this organization, can you imagine how much a statewide contract like the one Wisconsin has with them would be?” Olson said.
Olson’s group subsequently filed its FOIA request for, he said, “financial records, along with contractual records, and training materials.” He didn't expect to be hit with the monster bill.
“What they’re doing, I’m sure, is legal," Olson said. "But it’s hard to say you are following the spirit of the law for government transparency when you send a taxpayer a $19,000-plus bill with a straight-face.
“Part of me believes they’re hitting us with this outrageous bill because they do not want the public to see some of the materials we’re seeking,” he added.
Gasper suggested that Olson's group scale back its request.
“We’ve given them an opportunity to be more specific in what they would like, which would not only shorten the time required to fulfill the request but diminish the cost of the application, as well,” he said.
Olson said he may do just that.
“We’re not going to give in,” Olson said. “We may just seek the financial records. We might break the request down into more focused, smaller applications. What we’re currently trying to do is figure out what among those 104,000 some-odd pages would be most fruitful. We’re not going to allow DPI to hide public documents behind an outrageous bill.”
Messages left at PEG’s San Francisco and Minneapolis offices Thursday were not returned.