SUMMERVILLE — Three people who asked for a copy of the Durham School Services bus contract from Dorchester District 2 schools were told it would cost $150 — an apparent violation of the state Freedom of Information law.

The requests came over the last few weeks as Teamsters union representatives try to organize bus drivers in the district.

District officials say the fee quote is policy. One of the requesters said it was an attempt to withhold information.

A South Carolina Press Association official called the fee quote “smoke.”

Durham School Services Regional Manager Dave Brabender confirmed that “there’s an organizing event going on, and there will be a vote in a couple of weeks.”

Allyson Duke, the district’s chief financial officer, said the $150 fee was quoted for copying a 22-page document because that fee is called for under a district “commercial use” policy, and staff understood the contract was requested for the Teamsters.

“No, no. There’s no specification for that in the law. District policy does not trump state law. I think there’s smoke there,” said Bill Rogers, S.C. Press Association executive director.

The requesters are state residents and are treated the same as anyone else under the law, he said. “Above all, financial contracts are open. They should be available at minimal cost,” Rogers said.

Two of the requesters were a bus driver in the district and a bus driver from another district who is a union representative. They were told they could view the contract without charge.

Asked to assist by the Teamsters, activist Rob Groce of Knightsville pushed the district on the fee, and the contract was copied for him for $5.

Groce said he was told at first that it would take two weeks to produce the copy.

“We didn’t deny anybody. We do have to have policies in place” to compensate for employees’ time and protect taxpayers’ dollars, Duke said.

She said she would speak with the district’s attorney about whether the commercial use fee is proper.

“The fact that I had to go through such rigamarole to get information ... it’s my opinion she was deliberately trying to withhold information where my tax dollars go, and I don’t appreciate that,” Groce said.

Duke said that was not true. The district outsourced its bus services to Durham at the beginning of the school year.

The contract copies were requested because of drivers’ concerns that they are paid less per hour to drive to extracurricular events than they are to drive routes, Groce said.

Reach Bo Petersen ?at 937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.