A proposed Juneau School District policy that would let it spend public money to
take sides on a ballot measure is intended to protect the district from
potential claims it has broken state election-spending laws, administrators say.
But the Juneau School Board’s Policy Committee, meeting Thursday, couldn’t agree
to pass along the policy to the full board. * * *
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The policy would match state law, which allows school districts to advocate a
position on a ballot measure as long as they previously appropriate money for
that purpose. School districts can provide impartial information without making
a specific appropriation.
Local school officials said they don’t intend to spend public money to advocate
in election issues. * * *
But the school district’s attorney, Ann Gifford, said that passing the proposed
policy and appropriating a few hundred dollars would protect the district from
complaints that its activities, even if intended to be impartial, were violating
School Board member Julie Morris said the policy was open to abuse.
"I don’t like it. Just because something in law says we can do something
doesn’t make it right," she told the committee.
In the past, the district has produced information sheets about school bond
measures. The School Board’s current policy allows spending public funds in
elections only to provide impartial information.
But sometimes citizens have questioned whether the materials were impartial, and
there are gray areas in the law, Gifford said.
School Board member Bob Van Slyke said he prefers the current policy. If the
board adopts the proposed policy, it should include a statement explaining that
the policy is intended to protect the district from complaints that it has
broken the law, he said.
School Board member Phyllis Carlson said the board is responsible for protecting
the district and should approve the policy.
"Without this, we open ourselves to the challenge that we look like we’re
advocating for one side or the other on whatever particular issue it is,"
is a great article for showing how change occurs.
Schools may always communicate factual information about their plans, but at
times they cross the line into advocacy. See, e.g. this
story about a New York school district. And occasionally, advocacy by
schools may be appropriate to counter an unfair characterization of what schools
intend to do.
What to do? Pass a law that permits school boards to engage in advocacy and rely
on the political process to keep school boards from spending too much money on
At first many are opposed, arguing that taxpayers shouldn’t have their money
spent to tell them what to decide and how to vote. But, the law is passed and
schools authorize advocacy just as a defense against lawsuits in case their
neutral, factual information turns out to be one-sided.
Eventually, one school district will push the envelope and run a full scale
advocacy campaign for a building project or something else, especially after
having lost one or two previous votes. If the referendum passes, the advocacy
money will be interpreted to be an important factor.
School supporters in other districts will say: Why should our children be put at
a disadvantage, especially since the law permits advocacy? The argument that
taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to force taxpayers to raise even more money to
oppose what they see as inadvisable spending increases will fall on deaf ears.
Pretty soon, schools will learn that by spending 2% to 6% of their budgets on
advocacy, they can optimize revenues for operations. Whole industries will grow
up to help schools plan campaigns to extract more money from taxpayers.
The truth is, even the factual information provided by schools is advocacy. They
reveal the facts that support their position and conceal or distort the facts
that don’t. Moreover, taxpayers already pay for school advocacy through the
union dues paid by educators. See, Keep
schools out of teacher politics. If teachers need to pay larger union dues
to advocate for their positions, all they simply need do is raise their dues and
demand pay increases to cover their increased costs. The same result could be
obtained by negotiating with schools to directly pay education lobbyists rather
than pay the money to the teachers, who must pay the money to their unions,
which then use the money for lobbying.