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South Fayette withholds figures detailing potential costs of school expansion options

| Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 10:51 p.m.
South Fayette school board President Leonard Fornella

South Fayette school board President Leonard Fornella twice this week refused to release public information detailing potential costs of high school expansion options.

Fornella, an attorney, acknowledged the information is public record under the state's open records law, which helps ensure government documents are available to citizens.

“I am not giving incomplete, indecipherable financial information to a novice who won't understand it,” Fornella told a Tribune-Review reporter on Wednesday. “File a Right to Know request if you need to.”

Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel with the Pennsylvania News Media Association, said Fornella's reasoning is not a basis for denial.

“That's completely inappropriate and outside the context of the information,” she said.

The Trib on Wednesday filed a Right to Know request to the district seeking a report by Eckles Architecture that details possible high school expansion costs. The school district has five business days to respond to the request.

Information and records presented to a quorum — in this case, a board majority — during a public meeting are public under the law, Melewsky said.

At a special meeting on Tuesday, school board members discussed the progress of an expansion feasibility study by Eckles, based in New Castle. An earlier demographic study showed the high school on Old Oakdale Road will be at capacity by 2016 — about 800 students.

Copies of the Eckles report given to board members included construction and design scenarios for the expansion, along with a separate packet on the possible cost.

Fornella provided a copy of the construction and design options to the Trib but refused a reporter's request for the financial information.

“You wouldn't understand it,” he said.

School board members Teresa Burroughs, William Newcomer, Alan Vezzi, Lena Hannah, Alexander Czaplicki, Todd Petrillo, Paul Brinsky and Jennifer Iriti could not be reached for comment. District solicitor Fred Wolfe was unavailable for comment.

Board members alluded to information in their packet, including financial figures, throughout the public meeting.

“There may be some information that is exempted, but if they're talking about it in a public meeting, at public session, it's public record,” Melewsky said.

Megan Guza is a Trib Total Media staff writer. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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