Poland schools stall in releasing public records on salaries

Published: Sun, April 17, 2011 @ 12:09 a.m.
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Poland Superintendent Dr. Robert Zorn

By Karl Henkel



After Poland approved a 6.9-mill emergency operating levy in 2003, Poland Superintendent Robert Zorn appeared meticulous about the district’s finances.

In an effort to show the district’s fiscal responsibility, he noted every layoff and cut in a seven-page outline. He shared that outline with The Vindicator in February, complete with spending- rate comparisons with other Mahoning Valley school districts and possible cutbacks in Poland should the 4.9-mill levy fail in May.

But this month when it came to releasing salary figures for every district employee, Zorn and the district have appeared unwilling to cooperate.

The Vindicator submitted a seven-item public record request to Poland Treasurer Donald Stanovcak after the Feb. 28 school board meeting as part of the new Government Watch initiative on vindy.com.

Other districts presented with the identical records requests produced documents in a timely manner. But in a response dated March 10, Stanovcak said documents containing the “five-year total compensation history of every employee — including but not limited to the annual salary amount” were “non-existent.”

This week The Vindicator pressed the district for salary figures for all its employees.

“Sorry,” Zorn told an editor Wednesday, “it’s not my department or I’d give it to you.”

Stanovcak, whose department should have the information, didn’t say he didn’t have the numbers, but that he didn’t have them in the requested format.

“We do not have that information in that format,” he told an editor. “We are not required to create a document to match your request.”

David Marburger, an Ohio attorney specializing in public records who also represents The Vindicator, said public offices will often find loopholes to avoid providing information.

He said the newspaper’s request was imprecisely worded, allowing the district an “out,” a topic he covers in his upcoming book “Access with Attitude.”

Still, Poland officials should have provided the information, he said.

“It’s obvious what you wanted. It’s obvious they had it,” he said. “And it’s obviously a disservice to the public.”

According to the Ohio Public Records Act, requests for public records should be “interpreted liberally in favor of disclosure ... where the decision whether to disclose a record is a close call, a public office should disclose it.”

“If a record does not clearly fit within an exemption, the public office must disclose the record.”

When asked again for all Poland schools’ employees salaries, the district then provided The Vindicator with current teaching staff salaries faxed from pages of a budget book.

After another request, administrator salaries were hand-written on a piece of paper and faxed. After a third request, the superintendent’s salary was faxed as well.

Those documents can be found in PDF format on the Government Watch site.

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