By KAREN PARKER | County Line Publisher

You can’t really blame the Norwalk-Ontario-Wilton School Board. After all, wouldn’t your curiosity be piqued had you learned that you had been shortchanged more than a million dollars?

Consequently, when board members discovered that a change in school district boundaries due to the detachment of the Wilton area in 1999 had never been reported to the U.S Census Bureau, they wanted to know who had dropped the ball.

It is, after all, statistics from the Census Bureau that are used to determine the amount of federal funding allocated to each school district, not that the feds are terribly generous. We are talking about $100,000 a year, not much of the district’s $9 million budget. But then the years roll past, and one year at $100,000 lost turns into more than a dozen years at $100,000 each and, well, you get the idea. Pretty soon we are talking real money, real money that stayed with the Royall School District to educate students it was no longer were charged with educating. Oops.

Now, you might think, that sounds easy to resolve. The superintendent can pick up the phone and call our public servant at the U.S. Census Bureau. And once they get Fred or Sam or Sue on the line, they can explain the problem, and things are on their way to being resolved.

Well, come on out of La-La Land. That’s not the way it works.

First of all, you can’t just ask the Census Bureau a question in plain English. You must couch your request in a boatload of legalese mumbo-jumbo. For that, you require a lawyer.

But not even a lawyer can make a request for Census Bureau records unless it is accompanied by a check for $683.25. And it’s not the lawyer’s money, incidentally, but yours, foolish taxpayer.

But, of course, once the Census Bureau started to process the claim, oh, my, it discovered the fee should actually have been $641.33. That’s a serious difference of $41.91 and enough to stop the process until the correct amount was submitted.

Is your head starting to hurt yet?

Wait, it gets worse.

Of course, all of this is done under the Freedom of Information Act. Who would have guessed that school district boundaries are top-secret, classified material?

Could we foil a terrorist attack on Black Valley by hiding its district location from the public?

Yep, I can just seem guerillas in camouflage putting away the bombs and grenade launchers.

“Oh, heck, we thought Black Valley was in the Royall School District.”

So, after endless emails and a check for $641.33 and a wait of many months, aren’t you just itching to know what was the final disposition?

According to Michael J. Toland, Ph.D., Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Act Officer, and Chief, Freedom of Information Act and Open Government Branch, the answer to the N-O-W District is, “Take your request and stick it.”

Okay, he didn’t exactly say it that way. What he did was offer an explanation that would take 12 Philadelphia lawyers to unscramble.

Here is one brief sample:

“Enclosed is one document (19 pages) that is responsive to your request, with withholding determinations noted. We withheld portions of the responsive documents pursuant to FOIA Exemption 6, 5 U.S.C. ยง 552(b)(6). Exemption 6 protects from disclosure information about individuals, the release of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

First of all, what pretentious government bureaucrat adds “PhD” after his signature? Really, do we care if he did postdoctoral work at Clown College? We just want to know what happened to the money.

And, secondly, what “invasion of personal privacy”? How can a map of district boundaries and the history of how those boundaries were established involve anyone’s personal privacy?

Superintendent Kelly Burhop suspects the Census Bureau is shifting the problem back to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. He says it will be up to the board members to determine if they wish to pursue the matter with the DPI and/or take Toland up on his offer to file an appeal with the Census Bureau.

I have a better idea. Next week, when school starts, Burhop and the board ought to march down to the preschool class and take the matter up with the 4-year-olds.

They might not know the answer, but at least what they have to say will be far more entertaining and useful than what we get from Mr. PhD.

As for open and transparent government? Horse hockey!