Mark Twain is generally credited with saying, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
State Superintendent of Education John White could take a lesson from that great writer because he appears to have trouble remembering what he said to whom these days.
Take, for instance, the AP story by reporter Melinda Deslatte that ran last Thursday (June 20).
The story was an account of a meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) which focused on the controversial attempt by White to enter into a contract to provide sensitive student information to a non-profit data-storage company called inBloom.
inBloom, the brainchild of News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and controversial New York education executive Joel Klein, is funded primarily by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and seeks to create a national database of student information.
The Department of Education (DOE) entered into a memorandum of understand (MOU) on Jan. 15 for the state to provide personal student data ranging from addresses and test scores to medical history and information about learning disabilities. White has assured BESE that the information was protected in secure servers and behind computer firewalls.
inBloom, however, said that while it would do its best to protect the data there was no guarantee that the information would not be compromised by hackers.
But buried deep in Deslatte’s story, White apparently becomes confused about what he has told various people.
In response to former DOE employee Jason France who said the contract was still in force, White said he would send a certified letter to inBloom. But then he added that he had already sent several letters notifying the organization that Louisiana’s data-sharing agreement was terminated.
On April 22, LouisianaVoice sent the following public records request to White and DOE legal counsel Joan Hunt:
• “Please provide me with the opportunity to review the official letter or email that you sent to inBloom to cancel the data storage agreement as per the lead paragraph from the Monroe News-Star.”
A copy of the News-Star story was attached to our request.
On May 9, we received a response in the form of a letter from DOE attorney Troy Humphrey which said:
• “Our public information office has requested that I inform you that the Department is not in possession of any public record(s) responsive to the above-written request.”
Is White really trying to make us believe that between May 10 and June 20, he sent “several letters” of cancellation to inBloom but as of May 9, there was no such letter?
Quite frankly, we have a lot of trouble accepting that scenario.
You may remember we were forced to sue White and DOE a couple of months ago over his refusal to provide public records in a timely manner. We settled for $100 per day per request that DOE was late providing. The final tab was $3,500, plus court costs and attorney fees.
Well, as of today (Monday, June 24), it’s been 45 working days since our request for the letter(s) of cancellation.
The state public records law says that any request for public records must be honored immediately unless the record is in use and unavailable. In such case, the custodian of the record(s) must immediately respond in writing to the requestor as to when the record(s) will be ready for inspection within the next three working days.
At $100 per day, White has already run up a $4,500 tab on just that one request—and the meter’s running.
But there are others that also are pending.
For example, on May 20, we made a follow-up request:
• “…In the public records you provided my attorney, J. Arthur Smith, you included photocopies of several checks to the Louisiana Department of Education from David Lefkowith but you neglected to provide photocopies of the backs of the checks that would indicate whether or not the checks were actually negotiated or deposited. Please provide copies of the backs of those checks.”
Call us jaded or skeptical, but we believe the checks may have been written and never deposited—a clever ruse to satisfy public records requests and hope there was no follow up as to the checks’ final disposition.
Sorry, but like Elvis, we have suspicious minds.
On May 22, Humphrey wrote us that “the Department will identify and locate any public records in its possession that are responsive to the above written request. After any responsive items have been identified, the Department will segregate and set aside those public records that are available for your inspection.”
To date, we have heard nothing further even though DOE had already located the checks and photocopied the fronts of the checks.
Let’s see, that request was made on May 20. Discounting weekends and Memorial Day, that is 25 days—and counting: $2,500.
And then there’s that other May 20 letter in which we made six separate requests:
• Any communications in any form or contracts relative to the “shared Learning Collaborative” or SLC, a project of the Gates Foundation;
• Information regarding Louisiana’s participating in Phase I of the above project;
• Any communications with or information relevant to Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of News Corporation;
• Any communications with or information relevant to Louisiana’s association or business conduct with any corporation or entity owned, led or associated with Iwan Streichenberger;
• Any communication or discussion relevant to the sharing of confidential student information for the purpose of developing and marketing “learning products” or for any other purpose;
• All communication and/or contracts relevant to current or future association with Gates Foundation or its subsidiaries.
To date, DOE has responded only to the first request on this list. That leaves five requests that have been outstanding now for 25 days. Five outstanding requests times 25 days times $100 per day comes to $12,500.
That brings the total for all outstanding requests to $19,500 as of today. Add attorney fees and costs of court and suddenly DOE is knocking on the door of $25,000.
We have already instructed attorney Smith to file suit—again—but that this time he seek sanctions against White and monetary damages over and above the $100 per day for his making it impossible for our sister company, Capitol News Service, to file stories to our client newspapers (about a dozen publications) in a timely manner.
These are unnecessary expenditures—all because White either doesn’t care about the public’s right to know or, as with the case of the letter(s) of cancellation to inBloom, he’s simply a liar.