Davis school board accused of illegally pushing Measure E

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3B

In a complaint filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission, a Davis political action committee contends that the city's school board and its president are illegally using taxpayer dollars to stump for a school funding measure on the November ballot.

Thomas Randall, coordinator of the anti-Measure E political action committee No School Board Taxes, said the district's board is using mass mailers under district letterhead and information on the district's website and online as campaign tools to intimidate voters into approving the measure.

Measure E is a proposed extension of the city's Measure A – a two-year parcel tax set to expire in June 2013 – to maintain funding of Davis Joint Unified School District schools. District leaders say the district would lose $3.2 million from the budget in 2013-14 if Measure E fails. The measure needs two-thirds approval.

All but one of the candidates for the board's two open seats support the measure. Opponents include Randall ally and candidate, university professor Jose Granda.

They call the proposed extension unfair, costly and an abuse of the tax ballot measure process.

"The school board members are not above the law. The exercise of democracy needs to have a fair and honest process instead of ramming Measure E on us, breaking campaign laws," Randall said in a statement.

At issue is a flier on Davis Joint Unified School District letterhead, labeled "The Facts About Measure E," provided at candidates' forums and campaign events for incumbent school board President Susan Lovenburg.

Randall singles out Lovenburg in the complaint.

In the flier and online, Davis school funding is labeled as "uncertain," and voters are told that the district must prepare for the loss of $6.9 million in revenue in 2013-14.

The $6.9 million figure factors in projected cuts in 2012-13 if California voters reject Proposition 30, the governor's tax initiative that backers say will avert future funding cuts to K-12 schools and community colleges.

Information on Measure E is also found on the district's website, www.djusd.net, and a website, District Dollars, dubbed as a "collaborative project of the Davis Joint Unified School District and community volunteers."

Lovenburg denied the charge in a statement, saying the fliers and website do not violate elections law. She said they are informational and not campaign materials.

"The fact sheet in question is consistent with neutral information provided by the district whenever a parcel tax is placed on the ballot," the statement reads. "As such, I have preferred to distribute it at campaign events in favor of materials produced by the Yes on E campaign."

This is not the first time Randall has taken issue with school leaders. Randall filed an FPPC complaint in May 2011 following the passage of parcel tax Measure A, alleging district officials were illegally promoting the tax measure.

The FPPC found no wrongdoing in that matter but sent an advisory letter to the board reminding members how they can comply with election statutes in the future, said Gary Winuk, chief of the FPPC's enforcement division.

Winuk said his office has not yet received the most recent complaint. He said it could take two weeks for FPPC staff to determine whether to open an investigation.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Darrell Smith

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