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2001 Opinions

Date:   October 15, 2001
Prepared By:   James A. Robinson
Phone:   (850) 488-7707
Suncom:   278-7707
Opinion No.:   01-21
Staff Contact:   Diane McCain
Phone:   (850) 488-5011
TO: Roger C. Cuevas, Superintendent
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
FROM: James A. Robinson, General Counsel,
Florida Department of Education
SUBJECT: District's Right to Obtain Charter School Contract Information
RE: Your Letter of October 4, 2001

QUESTION PRESENTED: May a school district obtain from charter schools proprietary contract information, such as the per pupil management fee or the overall fee payable to management companies and other vendors?

CONCLUSION: Yes, to the extent that such material falls within the definition of public records set forth in Sec. 119.011(1), F.S. Even if such material were not a public record, the terms of the written charter may create contractual rights and duties with respect to access to and production of charter school records.

DISCUSSION: Pursuant to Sec. 228.056(12), F.S. (2000), a charter school is subject to Chapter 119, F.S. Section 119.011(1), F.S., defines "public records" to mean:

"…all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, data processing software, or other material, regardless of the physical form, characteristics, or means of transmission, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency."

A charter school would be treated as an "agency," which is defined pursuant to Sec. 119.011(2), F.S., to mean:

"…any state, county, district, authority, or municipal officer, department, division, board, bureau, commission, or other separate unit of government created or established by law including, for the purposes of this chapter, the Commission on Ethics, the Public Service Commission, and the Office of Public Counsel, and any other public or private agency, person, partnership, corporation, or business entity acting on behalf of any public agency." (Emphasis added)

The office of the Attorney General issued Opinion No. AGO 2001-23 earlier this year which concluded that a not-for-profit organization granted charter status was subject to the Public Records even before opening its doors to admit students. While that opinion addressed a not-for-profit organization, its conclusions regarding the access to public records is applicable to this situation. A copy of AGO 2001-23 is enclosed.

Thus, public records, whether in the hands of the charter school or its vendors, are available for inspection and copying at the request of the school district in accordance with the procedures set forth in Sec. 119.07(1), F.S., absent a valid claim of exemption pursuant to Secs. 119.07(2) and (3), F.S.

Aside from the Public Records Act, the terms of the charter may create rights and obligations with respect to the access to and production of charter school records. This assumes that such terms do not impose unreasonable rules or regulations that violate the legislative intent of giving charter schools greater flexibility to meet educational goals. See Sec. 228.056(4)(f), F.S.

If the district and charter school desire to take advantage of mediation as a means to resolve any disputes that might arise, there are two methods available. First, the Office of the Attorney General has created a public records mediation program under Sec. 16.60, F.S. As a public entity, the district is also entitled to seek a formal opinion from that office. Secondly, under Sec. 228.056(4)(f), F.S, the Department of Education provide mediation services for disputes that arise subsequent to the approval of a charter application, except disputes regarding charter school application denials.

cc: Diane McCain, Director, Choice Office

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