Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Trustees might violate Texas Election Code ban on political advertising

A Short Guide To the Prohibition Against Using School District Resources for Political Advertising in Connection with an Election (Revised September 1, 2009)

Printing and mailing the Dallas ISD Newsline in its present format appears to violate the Texas Election Code - (Section 255.003) - either directly or indirectly.

This past June Dallas ISD printed and distributed the inaugural edition of Dallas ISD Newsline. The purpose of the publication is to "share news, accomplishments, and special programs and initiatives from around the district."

There is a message from Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, as well as other articles and information about the school district. That's good.

In addition, the Dallas ISD Newsline includes prominent photos of the individual Trustee and a personal message. It is mailed to each of the nine Dallas ISD Trustee districts.

Ninety thousand copies were mailed -- 10,000 copies were mailed in each district.

On this month's Board agenda, the administration is asking the Board to approve:

Printing and Postage of Dallas ISD Newsline, Fall and Spring Issues (Not to Exceed $300,000) (Consent Item #50 - Separate Item #6)

This time the plan is to mail copies of the Newsline to all registered voters in each District.

The Texas Election Code (Section 255.003) prohibits the use of school district resources to produce or distribute political advertising.

Although it will be claimed that the publication is not specifically political advertising, it clearly could be seen to serve this very purpose - in light of the November 3, 2009 specially called election.

During discussions at the August Board Briefing, I asked Trustees if they still had copies of the June (first) issue. Each Trustee was given boxes of the Newsline to distribute or for our use. Trustees responded, "Yes," indeed they still had many copies. I suggested that Trustees could distribute those copies, and we could save money by not printing a Fall Newsline.

Now it is even clearer that the Board should not approve printing and postage of Dallas ISD Newsline as requested.

This Dallas ISD Newsline is to be mailed in October – right before the special election. It is scheduled to be mailed to voters in each District.

Trustees should not approve printing and mailing the Newsline in its present format and as proposed to voters only.

The Dallas ISD Board should not appear to violate guidelines of the Ethics Commission and the Texas Election Code.

We should do the right thing.

A school district board member or employee would violate the prohibition by “spending or authorizing the spending of public funds” for political advertising.