Agency to decide if BEA can withhold information

Local News

A state agency will decide if Blue Earth Area School District is illegally withholding public information.

Since last October, has been trying to obtain payroll information for former third-grade teacher Steven Wood, who resigned at the start of the school year after working out a separation agreement for $19,731.

Last May, Wood was arrested and charged with misdemeanor domestic assault.

He reached a plea bargain of continuance for dismissal, meaning the case will be dropped if there are no probation violations for nine months.

Superintendent Evan Gough would not say if Wood was allowed to teach following the incident.

Gough and the district’s attorney Michelle Kenny have cited the state’s Data Practices Act in saying that Wood’s employment status is private personnel data.

In a Jan. 23 e-mail Gough wrote, “The data you requested is either not maintained by the school district or is classified as private personnel data under Minnesota statutes section 13.43 and is not accessible you.”

However a section of the statute says, “payroll time sheets or other comparable data that are only used to account for employee’s work time for payroll purposes,” is public information.

Taya Moxley-Goldsmith of the Information Policy Analysis Division for the Minnesota Department of Administration (MDA) says the agency will issue an advisory opinion.

Moxley-Goldsmith says a letter was e-mailed to Gough asking him and Kenney to provide information.

It’s expected to take up to 50 days before MDA issues a ruling.

If district officials are required to release the payroll information they can choose not to comply. Should that happen, the court system or an administrative law judge may have to force compliance..

In addition, the school district could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined for willfully violating the law.

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