Attorney for state-controlled district waits a month before dodging the newspaper’s public records request
By Erick Johnson
The Gary Crusader on Monday, November 11, filed an official complaint after the newspaper waited a month while the Gary Community School District dodged its request for copies of two of EdisonLearning’s contracts.
The complaint was filed with the Indiana Public Access Counselor, a government agency that handles inquiries for public records.
On October 1, the Crusader emailed Michael Tolbert, an attorney who represents the state-controlled Gary school district. The newspaper asked for copies of the 2012 and 2017 contracts that EdisonLearning obtained to manage the academic curriculum of Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy.
EdisonLearning took over in 2012 when the state took over the storied school after years of failing grades on the state’s report card.
After waiting a month for the documents, the Crusader on November 1, sent a follow up email to Tolbert. In response the same day, Tolbert said, “This is information that would be in the hands of other entities and your request should be directed to either the State or Edison.”
Questions remain why the district took a month to inform the Crusader to seek the documents elsewhere.
In its complaint the Crusader alleged that Tolbert dodged the newspaper’s public records request. The newspaper alleges Tolbert stalled on the request and then responded with an answer that was given in an unreasonable amount of time.
An official with the office of the Public Access Counselor said the Gary school district should have copies of the contracts because they involved Roosevelt, one of its schools. It had been widely reported that the 2017 EdisonLearning contract was an agreement signed by EdisonLearning and the Gary Community School Corporation.
Since it was created in 1998, the Public Counselor office has received thousands of complaints, according to its website.
Once a complaint has been filed, the public access counselor will notify the public agency, which has two weeks to respond.
In July, Tolbert denied another public records request when the Crusader asked for copies of emails from several school district officials that were dated from January to the current month.
The Crusader wanted them to shed light on what conversations or actions if any, were taken since Roosevelt’s historic building was shuttered after the pipes burst under frigid temperatures in January.
When the Crusader published Tolbert’s denial to release the emails, he released seven of them. Those emails were just those sent by two Crusader reporters seeking information on the status of Roosevelt’s building and students.