Officials at Wayne Central taken to task: Ontario woman submits 941 requests for information from Wayne school district
There are government watchdogs, and then there’s Patty Affronti.
Since September 2011, the town of Ontario woman has filed 941 Freedom of Information requests with the Wayne Central School District, requesting employment applications, personal emails and barbecue receipts in a relentless quest to catch the district lying, stealing or otherwise out of line. It’s one smoldering front in a war between the district, which was criticized severely for its opacity in a recent state audit, and a troop of tenacious residents led by Affronti, who some say has gone too far with her FOIL guerrilla warfare.
According to Affronti, her crusade began in the fall of 2011 when she learned that her son’s high school wrestling team would not be receiving warmup sweatpants because there was no money for them in the budget. Another parent told her she could submit a Freedom of Information request with the district for the athletic department budget to see where the money was going.
In retrospect, the school would have been wise to spring for the sweatpants.
From Sept. 20, 2011, until April 23 of this year, Affronti filed an average of 11.3 FOIL requests a week with the district, 941 in total, and paid nearly $1,000 in copying fees at a quarter a page. By comparison, the district received 70 in that time frame from all other sources combined, according to its log.
The requests range from sweeping (the serial number and location of every computer in the district office) to the specific (records of one particular transaction under a defined budget line). Some concern multimillion-dollar budget transfers and district policies and evaluations, but several are for seemingly trivial expenses, such as a January 2012 request for a $19 receipt from Applebee’s.
Some ask for emails about Affronti herself and the cost of her FOILs, which the district has brought up specifically in meetings. It is difficult to discern a common thread going through all the requests, but Affronti says she believes the district is spending too much on conferences and office furniture and not enough on students....
“We’ve been painted as some sort of pariahs for pushing the envelope with the school to be more transparent, but the public has a right to this information,” she said. “The members of this community have a right to demand good value for our dollar.”
Affronti and Freischlag point to a recently released state comptroller’s audit that accused the district of using budgeting tricks and misdirection to overtax residents by more than $20 million over the last five years.
The district disputed the findings, then barred the doors to television cameras at its next board meeting. It apologized afterward for the “error in judgment.”May 13, 2013 11:12 AM