Utah authorities believe a local school district likely broke the law by using tax dollars to convince area voters to approve hundreds of millions in additional school funding in 2017.
Utah’s Office of the State Auditor reports the Canyons School District “improperly used public resources” when it spent $39,000 on five mailers from August to November 2017 that went beyond simply providing factual information for a $283 million bond proposal to advocate for the measure.
The Salt Lake City Tribune reports:
The state does not restrict a school district from sending out informational materials explaining what a bond would do and why it is needed – as long as both sides are explained so there is ‘equal access.’
The audit said just one mailer included a statement from someone opposed to the measure.
One example cited by the State Auditor involved a mailer that compared the date schools were erected in the 1950s – when Dwight Eisenhower was president and gas was 24 cents per gallon – to the future superheroes in today’s classrooms struggling with outdated facilities. Another mailer said the bond would be spent on “inspiring greater student achievement, promoting classroom innovation, fully engaging and strengthening communities, providing stellar customer service and remaining fiscally responsible to all stakeholders,” according to the state audit.
Voters approved the bond proposal with 56 percent of the vote.
“The district stacked the deck and used public money to benefit the district,” Wendy Davis, who filed the initial complaint against the Canyons district, told the Tribune.
Davis said “the biggest violation here, to me, is abusing the public’s trust.”
“I think the findings are as strong as they could possibly be,” she said. “They found them in violation of Utah code. That’s a big deal.”
The Canyons district isn’t the only one allegedly breaking the law.
The State Auditor found the Ogden School District also illegally advocated for a bond proposal through $1,600 worth of flyers and other materials that promised schools “will benefit” from the measure. Ogden school administrators also used their public email accounts to encourage folks to support the proposal, according to the news site.
Canyons spokesman Jeff Haney said the district is working on new policies for future ballot proposals, KUTV reports.
The Ogden district issued a statement to the Tribune that claimed “no actions were done with malintent” and took issue with state auditors’ interpretation of the word “benefit” as advocacy.
“We believe it is reasonable that a school district and its board of education should be allowed to voice the position that new and renovated school buildings will benefit the students who attend those school buildings to receive a public education,” the statement read.