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97-IB07: FOIA Complaint Against Colonial School District

Written on: March 26th, 1997 in 10001 Declaration of Policy

March 26, 1997

New Castle County – Civil Division

Ms. Sharon Beegle
127 Brierley Lane
Bear, DE 19701

RE: Freedom of Information Act Complaint
Against Colonial School District

Dear Ms. Beegle:

This letter responds to your facsimile of February 26, 1997 to
the Attorney General’s Office alleging that the Colonial School
District (“School District”) violated the Freedom of Information
Act, 29 Del. C. Sections 10001-10005 (“FOIA”), by not providing
you with information you had requested.

By letter dated February 26, 1997, we asked the School District
to respond to your complaint. By letter dated March 6, 1997, we
received the School District’s response.

In four letters dated January 21, 1997 to Mr. Monroe Gerhart, you
asked for various information in accordance with Section 10003 of
FOIA. Title 29 Del. C. Section 10003(a) provides that “[a]ll
public records shall be open to inspection and copying by any
citizen of the State during regular business hours by the
custodian of the records for the appropriate public body.” FOIA
does not require a public body, such as the School District, to
provide information in the form of answers to questions from a
citizen. Nor does FOIA require a public body to compile
information from public records in the form of a list or other
format requested by a citizen. See Att’y Gen. Op. No. 96-IB28
(Aug. 8, 1996). The School District’s responses to you and to
this Office reflect this general statement of law.

Of the eleven separate requests for information you made in your
four letters of January 21, 1997, only two asked to inspect or
copy documents. The first was “the voter list for the recent
December referendum.” The School District’s response was that no
such list existed, “because the District did not formulate a list
of those individuals. However, we do have records of individual
participation that could be made available upon request and
scheduling with our office for you to go through, . . . .” Under
FOIA, a public body is not required to create a public record
that does not exist. See Att’y Gen. Op. No. 96-IB28 (Aug. 28,
1996). To the extent that the information you seek is contained
in public records other than in the list form you requested, the
School District has offered to make those records available to

The second document you asked to see was “a copy of the state law
and the BOE policy on how these funds [generated from “non-tax”
sources] are to be accounted for and utilized.” The School
District states that it does not know what you mean by “BOE”
policy. We are not sure either. In any event, the School
District’s response was that a copy of any state law “would be
more appropriately sent to the Legislature,” and also is
available in “a public library.” Official codifications, such as
state laws and federal regulations, are not within the purview of
the public records law, even if the School District might have
copies of those laws or regulations in its files. “Not every
document which comes into the possession or custody of a public
official is a public record. It is the nature and purpose of the
document, not the place where it is kept, which determines its
status.” Linder v. Eckard, Iowa Supr., 152 N.W.2d 833, 835

Of your nine remaining requests for information, the School Board
chose to provide you with all or part of the information you
asked for regarding:percentage raise on salaries of
administrators;employee benefits; legal expenditures; amount of
money spent on a referendum; and income from facility rental and
athletic events. In response to your question where you could
find copies of state laws and federal regulations regarding
accounting and utilization of “non-tax” sources of income, the
School District referred you to the State legislature and the
public library.

Of the four remaining requests for information, the School Board
responded as follows:

List of all administrators supplied with a car, make model and year, monthly expense for leasing, source of payment (School District or State) — The School Board states that it cannot respond to this request for information because the Board does not lease any vehicles and “[a]ll vehicles have multiple users and none are exclusively used by a single individual.”
Names and positions of employees issued a cellular phone and their monthly expenses; number of beepers issued to administrators — The School District does not “issue” cellular phones or beepers. Some cellular phones are owned by the District and the District pays for all business related calls; some phones are owned by employees, and the District reimburses them for business related calls. “Similarly, some beepers are owned by the District, but some employees own and use beepers for District business.”
List of income generated by vending machines and student pictures — The School District does not have this information, because it “is not involved in the operation of [either]. These monies are handled through individual organizations such as clubs, faculty and staff organizations, and parent organizations.”

You also asked whether “it is true that the [School District] recently purchased 2 new plumbing trucks at a cost of over
$32,000,00 each. Please explain any exaggerations.” The School
District denied that it had purchased two plumbing trucks at that
price, and contends that any further response to your question is
not required under FOIA.

Based on your complaint and its attached documents, and the
School Board’s response, we do not find that the School Board has
committed a violation of the public records requirements of FOIA,
29 Del. C. Section 10003. Most of your questions and requests for
information would call upon the School District to compile lists
and extract information from other documents, which FOIA does not
require the School District to do. To the extent the School
District decided to provide you with some of the information you
requested, it did so voluntarily, and FOIA is not a basis for
compelling more complete or responsive answers.
Of course, if the information you have asked for is contained in
public records of the School District, then you can direct a
reasonably specific request to the School District to inspect and
copy those records, provided that they are not privileged or
otherwise exempt from disclosure under FOIA. We point this out
because the information you seek regarding automobiles, cellular
phones and beepers may very well be contained in documents which
the School Board has. Under FOIA, the School Board may be
required to produce those documents to you for inspection and
copying, since they involve the expenditure of public funds.
Very truly yours,

W. Michael Tupman
Deputy Attorney General

Michael J. Rich, Esquire
State Solicitor

cc: M. Jane Brady, Esquire
Attorney General

Keith R. Brady, Esquire
Chief Deputy Attorney General

David H. Williams, Esquire

Elizabeth A. Bacon
Opinion Coordinator