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Politics & Government

Open Records Chief Calls Charter Schools Scofflaws

The head of the state's Office of Open Records is pointing a finger at public charter schools for being the "cancer" of the state's Right-to-Know law.

The testimony comes as lawmakers are in the midst of an effort to tweak the state's five-year-old law, which lets citizens request government records starting with the presumption that all such documents are public, putting the burden of proof on agencies, not citizens.

Such revisions might address charter schools, suggested Office of Open Records Executive Director Terry Mutchler. She called charter schools, which are public, the most consistent violators of the law.

"Hands down, and if I could think of stronger language than I'm going to use here, I would use it," Mutchler said.

"I don't know what the solution is. We try to meet with them," Mutchler told a Senate committee on Monday during a hearing on proposed changes to the Right-to-Know law. "But as you look at this, it's certainly something to consider because they just play by their own rules."

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools said his group hasn't heard about such a problem but will work to address it.

"We look forward to working with the Office of Open records to resolve this situation," the group said in a written statement.

David Strassburger, a lawyer who represents media groups requesting public records, told lawmakers there's a potentially simple fix here — levy fines for those agencies and government entities that flout the law.

"(I)mpose a penalty of up to $500 per day for violations of (Office of Open Records) decisions, not just court orders," Strassburger said.