Cheers for Detroit Schools Transparency

District has come a long way

The Mackinac Center typically sends hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests to public offices every year. A FOIA request requires public entities to turn over documents and is an extremely important tool for holding government accountable.

These requests have helped us uncover unions skimming money from home health care aides and child care providers, break news of a scandal involving a film studio, expose teachers who couldn’t be fired despite committing criminal acts, find out about millions of public dollars being used for private union employees, discover a pension spiking scandal and more.

I’m the one who sends out most of our FOIA requests, and many of them go to Michigan’s 540 public school districts. The largest district in the state is the Detroit Public Schools Community District, which gets its fair share of requests, especially since it has had multiple problems with fraud and abuse.

A year or two ago, asking for information from what was then Detroit Public Schools was a headache. It was hard to figure out who the right person was to send the request to and the person who officially handled FOIAs was often slow to respond. So getting information from the district often took a long time.

But all that has changed. After the district was overhauled — which required a bailout from state taxpayers — it reorganized its FOIA division and added two new employees to who process requests from the public. Over the past nine months or so, the new school district has handled more than a dozen requests from the Mackinac Center on a variety of issues. And I’m happy to report that every single one has been handled promptly and thoroughly. If releasing the requested information is taking longer than what was first promised — even just a little time longer — I am notified immediately with an email or a phone call.

Michigan has thousands of government entities, all subject to FOIA. Most are pretty good at responding to requests, especially with recent legislative changes requiring them to name someone as a transparency officer. I’m happy to add Detroit Public Schools Community District to the list of government entities that strive to serve taxpayers and residents well by promptly responding to FOIA requests.