MARCO ISLAND — A slew of requests for information has left Marco Island Charter Middle School officials busy complying with public records laws and in some cases, on the defensive.
During a Charter School Board meeting Thursday night, former board member Al Diaz said he found the public records requests offensive.
“People asking for public records are hurting our school. Anybody can walk in the school and get anything you want.”
Another former school board member, Monte Lazarus, appeared even more upset, raising his voice and pointing his finger at this reporter saying the newspaper shouldn’t “give these people, who are making innuendos about a lack of transparency at the school, a platform to speak.”
“This is a fishing expedition, that’s all it is.”
Principle George Abounader said he has been spending more time than ever on public records requests.
Requests came from Marco Island police officer Jennifer Lofy, school board member Cathy Cleary, Marco resident Bill McMullan and parent Mario Sanchez, who is also a candidate for the board. Sanchez has since withdrawn his request for information.
The board complied with all requests except they chose so far not to give student and parent names and addresses, which was the nature of all four of those requests.
McMullan has also made other requests including e-mail between all board members adding up to more than 500 pages of information thus far, Abounader said.
Cleary said the board offered Lofy parent e-mail addresses.
The board agreed to create a form for parents to fill out so they can choose what information, if any, is added to a new parent directory that the PTO plans to create. The issue is to be discussed again in November to ensure the school complies with all laws and protects students and parents, said Board President Jim Reinders, who is also up for re-election.
School board member Joe Hausauer, whose seat is open, described the request for information as “digging for dirt” and took offense to any questions of transparency at the school. He said it was offensive to the “unsung heroes,” who helped make Marco Island Charter Middle School an “A+ school” with successful athletics as well as a beautiful building and campus that took a lot of work to support financially.
Councilman Frank Recker was the only one quoted in the Marco Eagle about his goal to add transparency to the school as a potential school board candidate. He said he was a bit taken aback by the level of defensiveness at the meeting.
“That’s just what I do. I stand for transparency,” Recker said.
After the meeting he added: “I was going to put an application in because I was told they needed a non-parent on the board.”
He is now reconsidering the idea.
School Board member Tarik Ayasun announced that he would not run for re-election and cannot serve anymore terms due to bylaw restrictions.
“Although I’m not on the board, I’m not going to stop raising funds.”
Ayasun and Orion Bank Vice President Keith Dameron said there was an error in the September 2008 board minutes.
“Ayasun made a comment that during the transition of the accounts, $100,000 was erroneously put into Tarik’s personal account for one day. It was transferred the next day back into the correct account along with interest,” wrote Board Secretary Jennifer Tenney.
Tenney said she didn’t summarize the situation well.
Explanations made at the time by Ayasun and Dameron took away any potential board concern, she added.
“It was considered such a non-event.”
The minutes are incorrect, Tenney, Ayasun and Dameron agreed.
“It looked to (Ayasun) like it was on his account and it freaked (Ayasun) out,” Tenney said.
Dameron said school accountant Maria Hayden brought the check to Orion Bank to open a new CD for the school.
Ayasun was among several signatures on the check and is the only board member who also held a personal account at Orion Bank.
“A customer with more than one account may be issued a combined statement,” Dameron said.
He added that normally if Ayasun had come into the bank, he would be asked if he wanted a record of the deposit to by tied to his statement of all transactions.
In this case, the bank representative made the assumption to connect the two by hitting a “yes” option that comes up in the bank system, Dameron said.
So when Ayasun pulled up his statement on the internet on a Friday evening, three days after the transaction, he saw a line item of $100,000 deposited to open a CD.
Ayasun had reported to the board and the bank that it was not clear to him that this transaction would not appear to be tied to his personal finances.
Dameron said the CD was never actually in Ayasun’s name and he would never have access to it.
At Ayasun’s request in September 2008, a letter from Dameron was put into the school record to explain the situation in case it was ever questioned.
The Eagle asked for a copy of that letter on Friday and will share the information once available.
“It really scares me that people are pouring through the minutes looking for dirt,” Tenney said.
“I really hope the people going for election aren’t up to this,” she said.
Sanchez, who currently has no pending requests for information, said citizens requests for information is nothing other than them exercising their rights.
After the meeting he described the outbursts of some former board members as “shameful and grotesquely disrespectful to a sitting board member and to anyone that values a democracy built on transparency.”
- Applications to be a Marco Island Charter School Board member candidate are to be available Monday and due back Nov. 6.
- A meeting is scheduled 6 p.m., Nov. 12, to approve the slate of candidates.
- Ballots will be sent to parents Nov. 20 and they must be returned by 5 p.m., Dec. 8
- The ballots will be counted at 6 p.m., Dec. 8, and the annual meeting and new members will be seated Dec. 10.