It took 2 months and the filing of a lawsuit. The Lakewood School District has finally released public records relating to their contract with the LSTA which coordinates busing for Lakewood's private schools.

It appears that this lawsuit is related to efforts to replace the current LSTA with a new busing authority for Lakewood's private schools.

As first reported here on FAA News, back on September 15th, an OPRA request was submitted to the Lakewood School District seeking numerous records pertaining to their busing contracts with LSTA, including correspondence between District officials and the LSTA as to transportation routes, bidding, schedules, employees; guidelines governing bus providers; complaints regarding student transportation services; audits, and evaluations of the LSTA and the services they provide; correspondence between the School District officials and Township officials as to transportation services and as to formation and organization of the LSTA; and correspondence between School District officials and any state senator or assemblyman as to transportation services for pupils and as to formation and organization of the LSTA.

On September 28th, the School District's Custodian of records responded "See attached link below with some documents you have requested. I have a flash drive for you to pick up that I am unable to email over because the documents are too large. You may come to pick it up before 4 today or anytime from 8-4 tomorrow. Also, we will need a 2-week extension for the remaining documents that you have requested."

The next day, the School District's Custodian of records received a response advising that the request for a two week extension of time was denied.

Under the New Jersey OPRA laws, custodians of records are required to fulfill all requests within 7 business days. The law stipulated that custodians may request an extension of time "if the government record is in storage or archived" provided that the custodian "notifies the requestor in writing, within the 7 business days and provides an anticipated deadline date upon which the records will be provided." The law also stipulates that "the length of the extension must be reasonable under the circumstances."

After the remaining documents requested were still not released, on November 10th, Attorney Larry Loigman slammed the Board of Education with a lawsuit alleging non-compliance with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

The lawsuit, filed in Ocean County Superior Court, alleged that the School District's Custodian "failed, refused and neglected to provide access to some or all of the government records or records requested within the time provided for by OPRA for a response by the records custodian."

Mr. Loigman specifically charged that "the custodian did not explain why the response would be delayed, and did not provide a certification that he had searched for records which were the subject of the requests", and that "almost none of the records sought were provided and that attempts to discuss the matter with District officials have led no where."

The lawsuit sought for a Court Order requiring the Board of Education to "provide access to all of the records immediately, or to identify the records as to which access has been denied, and to justify their refusal to permit access."

The lawsuit also sought filing costs and fees, including attorney’s fees; as well as for such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and equitable."

As previously reported here on FAA News, Judge Mark Troncone signed an Order to Show Cause, requiring the Board of Education to appear in court "and show cause why an order should not be issued ordering, declaring and adjudging that the records sought by Plaintiff’s requests are government records, and copies of same shall forthwith be delivered to Plaintiff".

The Order to Show Cause hearing was set for this past Friday, January 6, 2023.

Mere days prior to the scheduled hearing, BOE Attorney Michael Inzelbuch responded that the Order be denied as moot because the OPRA request was finally fulfilled - on November 21st.

The Board of Education has not explained why it took over 2 months and a lawsuit in Superior Court for them to release the public records.

It appears that this lawsuit is part of certain efforts to takedown the LSTA.

As previously reported here on FAA News, Jackson Township's former Councilman and current Assemblyman Alex Sauickie has introduced legislation that would alleviate the fiscal and administrative costs for schools districts associated with providing transportation services to nonpublic students - similar to the original LSTA pilot program which expired after 3 years and was not renewed, but with a twist that it would cover all nonpublic school student transportation in Howell, Lakewood, Toms River, Jackson, Brick and Manchester Townships. If this bill is approved, it is quite likely that the Administration will be more regional than "Lakewood-community based" as LSTA currently is.

It appears that the current OPRA request and its lawsuit is connected to Assemblyman Sauickie's efforts to "revamp" the LSTA.

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