More FOIA documents: Park District and School district

Rochf has provided a number of FOIA documents to be posted – there is a lot to read:

UPDATE (02 March):

FOIA responses from Unit 4:

Taking a closer look at my FOIA denial

In regards to my previous post about my FOIA being denied, I have decided to dig into the law and learn some of the nitty-gritty details of what is going on here. So my purpose here is to learn and understand more about the law under which we operate.

Here is the meat of the denial I am going to focus on (I am purposefully ignoring the section about Student Records and Personally Identifiable information):

“In addition, such documents are also exempt from disclosure since they are trade secrets or commercial information obtained from a person or business where the trade secrets or commercial information are furnished under a claim that they are proprietary, privileged, or confidential, and disclosure of the trade secrets or commercial information would cause competitive harm to the person or business. 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(g). In addition, such documents are exempt from disclosure under the FOIA since they constitute valuable formulae and research data obtained or produced by any public body when disclosure could reasonably be expected to produce private gain or public loss. 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(i).”

So we are dealing with two exemptions under FOIA law (5 ILCS 140/7(1)), ‘g’ and ‘i’. Before I hop over there, read the summary here carefully. Basically, Unit 4 is claiming that the school assignment data is proprietary (or privileged or confidential) trade secrets, and that they have valuable formulae which, if everyone knew about it, might be used for commercial gain. The way I read that is like “Intellectual property rights”, although I am no lawyer and I have no idea if that is even in the same ballpark, but that is what it makes me think of. So let’s go look at the what the reference Law says.

And here is what the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has to say regarding the exemptions:

So first, Read the rest of this entry »

Public Access Counselor and the Attorney General's office

I had an excellent conversation with Mr. Christopher Boggs from the Public Access Bureau of the Attorney General’s office. In short, he gave me the green light to publicly post any and all correspondence with his office, so without further ado:


Why am I making a blog post about this? For the record, my interest is about pursuing open and transparent governance. Mr. Boggs related how Illinois and Chicago have had a rash of corruption and heavy-handed tactics exhibited by our elected officials, and thus the recently updated FOIA and OMA laws are an attempt to bring power back to the citizens. I am very much inspired by this, because I have come to believe that we the people have given much of our power away, and I firmly believe that the most healthy thing is for us to take it back. Please note that I am not talking about anarchy; government, when executed within the proper boundaries, is critical and fundamental to society. I get that. But when government is bloated, rotten and corrosive, we need a way to either correct it or replace it. Isn’t that what we told England a few hundred years ago? In some ways, it seems the US has come full circle.


So my goal is not meant to make any one person or an entity look bad. Rather, my post is about encouraging others to fight for a healthy balance of power between the people and the decision-makers. Mr. Boggs, and the entire Public Access Bureau, are all about bringing sunshine into our government. Amen to that! I am all for it.


Mr. Boggs also lamented that the Bureau is terribly backlogged; I get the impression they are burning the candle at both ends. Tons of FOIA requests are being filed about the Chicago Public School system. I am so glad we are not embroiled in that. 🙂


So, I encourage you to join me in working for a balance. My personal journey has led me to push hard for changes in Controlled Choice (aka, Schools of Choice, Kindergarten Lottery, etc) by suggesting policy changes and interacting with board members (individually and as a group). Where is your path leading?


To aid in this effort, I have created a repository for FOIA documents. It is still really rough and takes a lot of work to maintain, but I wanted to get something out there with the hopes that it will evolve and because more organic.


2013 Kindergarten Lottery preliminary observations

Even though the bulk of my FOIA was denied, the few images I did receive still has a tiny bit of meat to chew on.


  1. For instance, on April-19 we had 790 total Kindergarten students, but on April-22 we only had 751. Hmm…
  2. Likewise, 768 applicants on the 19th, 720 on the 22nd. Keep in mind that registration was in March.
  3. But what gets me the most is that on April 22nd, we had 31 folks unassigned and still 113 open seats. Ouch.


It would be interesting to have the dashboard up and running so we could see more information about the waitlist and how school assignments change throughout the summer. The initial kindergarten lottery is only just the start of this yearly saga – our district has a ton of mobility and seats open up and change all the time.


Now if only I could find a dependable program to convert grainy pdf images into real spreadsheets…. (I tried Nitro, but it has a number of quirks).

2013 School assignment data FOIA *DENIED*

I am beside myself. Here I have been requesting the same data for the past 4 years, and this year my request is at first misunderstood and when I followed-up, flat out denied. Why is this so hard?!? On top of that, the data I get back is a frickin’ image of data – not even raw data. It’s a picture of a couple pages of a spreadsheet which summarizes the results of the 2013 school assignment program.


Pattsi has been urging, cajoling and nearly begging me to go to the Public Access Coordinator (PAC) at the Illinois AG office. Ok, I am finally fed up with this stuff and will start down that path. So frustrating…..


Here is the basis for why I think the public owns much of this data, or at the very least, has the obligation and the responsibility to view it; all the money was paid out of the tax payer pocket. Maybe some money came from a grant (in the past, we used one of our grants, perhaps TAP?), but that is still tax dollars. Not only that, but the school assignment system is convoluted at best, and never really explained well (especially not in a language that most people can understand), thus it gives the appearance of total lack of transparency. Or in other words, opaqueness. Lots of parents have frustrations about school assignment, but I do not see those frustrations being addressed satisfactorily.


This is just so wrong.


I realize my emotions are running a tad high at the moment – it is easy to hop on the warpath and go hunting. So I plan to sleep on this. I just don’t understand why the district, and the school attorney, perpetuates an environment that is totally and utterly not user-friendly. The feeling I have from this experience is as if the district is saying “thank you for your money now go away.”


Response letter

data” *cough cough*

Things keep hopping

There are a few things boiling internally at the Mellon Center. I’ll share the ones that have already become public, the others I have specifically been asked not to blog about. Which is really hard for me. 🙂 Isn’t that like giving a child some candy and telling him not to eat it? Not just any candy, but his favorite.

One of the rumors that finally got certified was that the former Garden Hills principal, Cheryl O’Leary has taken a position as the new Director of Special Programs while Cheryl Camacho has taken the position of Interim Principal at Garden Hills. Both effective July 1, 2013. In regards to this transition, I have spoken to parents, teachers (not at Garden Hills), administration and board members, and basically nobody wants to be quoted. So I am going to grossly summarize; some parents feel very agitated, some teachers feel like they can’t say anything, and the administration seem to have well-thought out reasons. But none of the folks I have talked with are talking with each other, which is very frustrating to me. I don’t believe one side is all wrong and the other side all right – I believe each has a story, a perspective, a slice of the pie. I am asking and hoping that some of these folks are willing to share their story.

I also spoke with two representatives from the College of Education yesterday, Jane E. Schingel and David Requa.  I was initially wondering what kind of research the College of Ed has done regarding Unit 4 and Unit 116. Both Jane and David were extremely helpful and our conversation was very enlightening. I learned that most research asks the question “how does this work”, whereas very little research goes to the next step of addressing how to make it work better. The fundamental roadblock is funding. But there is also the issue that most research asks very narrow and specific questions – nothing like a global “how to effectively run a school district” or “how to engage your community”. We also talked about the Center for Education in Small Urban Communities, and in addition to some thoughts shared by Dr. Wiegand, it sounds like the Center is currently undergoing some changes and there is a high hope and expectation that there will be an even higher level of collaboration between community interests (ie, local schools) and the Center when the dust settles. I hope to share more about that when information becomes available.


In regards to the FOIAs I heard about earlier, I am still trying to ferret out the truth and not depend solely on rumors. I have heard that some things are still bubbling, but nothing that is verified, yet. I fully intend to keep on them and share what I learn; again, it is not my desire to propagate rumors but to find facts and truth.


Lastly, pay attention to the board meeting on Monday. Or at least the announcements leading up to it.

FOIAs: another step of accontabiliity and transparency

I have heard some rumors of FOIA activity in regards to the school district. Instead of propagating rumors, I am going to see what comes out in the public sphere. I have also asked 1) if the school district is currently publishing all FOIA responses, and 2) if not, will they consider it. I have since learned the answer to the first question is no – I am now waiting on the second question.

The University has a very nice FOIA page (a whole subdomain dedicated to FOIA):

I really love how they set the tone:

“The goal of the FOIA request log is transparency for the public and increased understanding of the FOIA process and timelines.”

The University FOIA homepage says:

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides public access to government documents and records. The new Illinois FOIA notes that it is “the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials and public employees consistent with the terms of this Act. Such access is necessary to enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest.”

That last sentence is a kicker – wow. That’s right, you and I have a duty, and it is to talk about these public issues, make informed decisions and monitor government to make sure they are doing what we want them to do. Now how often does that actually happen?

So my question to you – in the grand scheme of things, how important is a FOIA index? Something I should push hard for? Or just send occasional requests? Surely there are “big issues” on the plate, and I am not sure this is one of them. However, from my point of view, it seems like low-hanging fruit that would be easy to knock out without much overhead at all.

2012-2013 Kindergarten Lottery data released

I have finally received the Kindergarten Lottery data:

I have not yet added this to my online database, but will do so later today. I was a tad disappointed that my request to standardize the data was not satisfied – my hope is that we will stop using Alves and thus the standarization temporarily becomes a moot issue. I need to follow up with Dr. Wiegand about that.

So all you number crunchers – go have fun. I have also heard a rumor (via a poster on that someone else is creating databases and charts from U4 data. Let me know if you are that person, because I would like to collaborate a little.

Putting every FOIA response online: good idea or bad?

Another thought occurred to me; is there a precedent set at any level of government where all FOIA requests and responses are posted online? It seems to me (naive as I am about such things) that this is a true FAQ, not the kool-aid version we so often get from canned questions. This seems to me an easy, low-hanging-fruit way to build transparency into the system.


Am I missing something? I realize there is some administrative overhead involved, but I do not believe that is enough of an obstacle to put the kibosh on the idea. Are there legal ramifications? I mean, the whole point of the Freedom of Information Act is to push public information into the public sphere. Right now, we only do half the job (FOIA requests are sent to an individual – who knows what happens to it after that).


I suggested this to Beth Shepperd in March of 2011. At one point, I also saw a link that had an index of FOIA requests, but I am no longer able to find it. And in June 2010 I offered to Tom Lockman that I could help index all the documents and reports they have on the website. Seems like such a long time ago…..


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