Hinsdale District 86 denies parts of FOIA request on authorship of letter

<p>Sun-Times Media file photo</p>

Sun-Times Media file photo

Hinsdale High School District 86 officials have refused to identify the author or reviewers of a letter to the community signed by the District 86 Board, making the drafting of the letter a more curious issue than it might otherwise be.

The district denied portions of The Doings’ request under the Freedom of Information Act for copies of emails between board members or district staff regarding the writing or revising of the letter to the community.

At the April 7 School Board meeting, board President Claudia Manley read aloud a letter to the community, that discusses the board’s approach to negotiating a new multiyear contract with its teachers and developing the budget for the next school year.

The School Board had the chance to edit and endorse the letter at that meeting, only after board member Kay Gallo protested the letter had not been shown to all the board members in advance.

Manley said that was because the letter was still in draft form when Gallo made her request.

When Gallo saw a letter referenced in the agenda the Friday before the Monday meeting, she said she called Superintendent Bruce Law to ask about it.

Board member Jennifer Planson said she asked the superintendent that Monday to see the letter, so she could be prepared to discuss it at that night’s meeting.

Both Planson and Gallo said the superintendent told them they could not see it yet.

An email from Manley to the six other board members, sent at 6:22 p.m. April 7, and obtained under the FOIA, includes the letter with the comment “Just reviewed and this looks to be the final version. It would be appreciated if this were not shared until such time as it is read. Thanks again.”

That email was sent less than 40 minutes before the meeting started.

Asked later that week why the authorship of the letter was such a mystery, Manley would not say who composed, instead writing in an email “The letter contains basic information about the budget process and negotiation process… No one had any substantive problems with it.”

Another email provided by the district under the FOIA shows Manley and board member Ed Corcoran had a draft of the letter to review on March 31.

On that morning, Law sent an email to Manley and Corcoran. Several lines in the email were blacked out before it was released to The Doings. What remained said: “Claudia would read this letter Monday night, and it would go out at the same time during the meeting. It would also be posted on the bargaining website, which would go live Tuesday.”

The email shows an “open letter 4-1-14” was attached, but the attachment was not included in the district’s response to The Doings’ request.

The district’s FOIA officer, Martha Maggiore, explained not all the relevant emails were provided because state statute does not require public bodies release “documents that are preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations… and other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies are formulated.”

Parts of The Doings’ request were denied because it “seeks information which is protected by the attorney client privilege,” Maggiore wrote.

For this to be true, the district’s attorneys would have had to review and possibly comment on the letter.

Some of the emails The Doings requested also were denied, Maggiore wrote, because they related to “collective negotiating matters between the district and its employees or their representatives.”

The Doings asked only for emails pertaining to the letter to the community, and did not mention collective bargaining.

The letter states the teachers’ contract expires June 30 and negotiating teams representing the School Board and the Hinsdale High School Teachers Association have already begun meeting.

Other references in the letter to teacher negotiations state the board and the community respect and appreciate the teachers and their contributions to the academic achievements of the students and to the district’s reputation as one of the top high school districts in the state and in the nation.

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