An experiment by the South Carolina Policy Council revealed that identical public-records requests sent to every state school district resulted in huge disparities in cost estimates for the information, reports the Greenville News. Florence District 5’s estimated charge for the records was $464. Greenville County Schools’ estimate was $35,000. "The public has a right to this information," said Bryan Cox, a spokesman for the Policy Council, a Columbia, S.C., research organization. "It is public record, and it is supposed to be provided to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. But what we have in practice is exorbitantly high fees, which make it nearly impossible for the average citizen to see how school districts are spending public money." Oby Lyles, a spokesman for Greenville’s schools, said the $35,000 was based in part upon an estimate of 1,100 staff hours to pull records for seven of eight Policy Council requests. He said the last request would require the council to contact each individual school. "I think a lot of times when people submit a request, … they think we can just reach in a drawer and pull it out," he said. "But that’s not true when you are asking for these kind of records–it involves a lot of people." Lyles said the district has a responsibility to charge actual costs for such requests to protect taxpayers. The Policy Council said it sent identical Freedom of Information requests to each of the state’s 85 school districts. The letters asked for documents related to travel, catered meals, consultant, and training services from 2006 to the present. The group also asked for all correspondence from teachers to students requesting they bring supplies or money to buy supplies or for any school-related purpose. Thirteen school districts wanted more than $10,000 to provide the records, and 10 offered to provide them for $1,000 or less…

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