At its October 10, 2019 meeting, the Anaheim Union High School District Board of Education voted to place a $398 million school bond on the March 2020 ballot.
In 2014, AUSHD voters approved Measure H, a $249 million school bond. The proposed $398 million bond is a copy-and-paste of Measure H: a few words and the dollar amount were changed – otherwise it is identical to Measure H.
Expressing his support for the bond, Area 1 Trustee Al Jabbar stated his belief that the key to winning the election is using AUSHD resources to “bombard” the public with so much positive information they’ll vote for another school bond.
“I just want to make sure that during our…run up to the election, I just want to make sure that we are pumping enough information – I know we have a PIO here – to the public of our success stories about our previous bond,” said Jabbar. “So that the community is bombarded with information to say that we’ve been responsible with the money and that we’ve been responsible stewards of their money as a district, and I think that’s going to be the key for us to win this next bond.” [emphasis added]
In other words, Jabbar wants the AUSHD to pull out all the stops and use taxpayer resources to affect the outcome of the election.
That ought to be illegal. It is certainly wrong and unethical to use tax dollars for political advocacy – not least because taxpayers are being forced to subside political action and policies they may oppose. if Jabbar is so willing to use taxpayers’ money for campaign electioneering, why should they trust him with $398 million in bond funding?
Granted, public school districts in California have for years shown little compunction about using public resources for political and campaign purposes when they feel their interests are on the line. And given the highly-politicized nature of AUSHD under the leadership of Jabbar and Superintendent Mike Matsuda, it’s not surprising Jabbar could publicly call for using public funds to influence an election campaign and meet with no criticism or pushback from his Board colleagues.
Indeed, the only response came from Board President Brian O’Neal, who complimented Jabbar this his direction to staff was “Very well stated.”
Politics have so thoroughly saturated AUSHD operations that its elected trustees don’t even bat an eyelash when one of their number tells staff who wants them to use tax dollars to sway how voters cast their ballots.
The district has already spent at least $40,000 to gauge voter support and test messaging. On October 22, this blog e-mailed the District asking for the results of the poll, which is a public document. To date, the District has totally ignored this request – not even acknowledging the public information request.
In line with Jabbar’s explicit request to use District resources to influence the election, several weeks ago the district’s executive leadership, principals and consultants signed a report calling for the AUHSD to undertake a communications campaign to build voter support for the impending bond initiative, including:
- “Message to voters the plans for the use of funds”
- “Use existing school activities (coffee, walks, etc.) to inform”
- “Educate on how bonds work and how the funds will be spent”
- “Use tools such as website, social media, time-lapse videos, etc.”
- “Engage and hold accountable our cities and city council members”
This is wrong, unethical and transgresses the boundaries of appropriate use of public funds. Will there be any consequences? If history is any guide, no. And these people know it.
Jabbar, who is also the Deputy Chief of Staff to Supervisor Doug Chaffee, lives in Anaheim’s District 3. He is a class political ally of Councilman Jose F. Moreno, and many observers believe he will be Moreno’s endorsed candidate in District 3 in 2022, when Moreno is termed out.
Question: Can District funds or supplies be used to urge support for or defeat of an upcoming ballot measure or candidate?
Education Code section 7054(a) provides that:
“No school district or community college district funds, services, supplies, or equipment shall be used for the purpose of urging the support or defeat of any ballot measure or candidate, including, but not limited to, any candidate for election to the governing board of the district.”
These provisions also apply to County Offices of Education. Education Code section 7051.
Question: Can a District use District money to send an informational letter to the public regarding a ballot measure?
Education Code section 7054(b) provides:
“Nothing in this section shall prohibit the use of any of the public resources described in subdivision (a) to provide information to the public about the possible effects of any bond issue or other ballot measure if both of the following conditions are met:
(1) The informational activities are otherwise authorized by the Constitution or laws of this state.
(2) The information provided constitutes a fair and impartial presentation of relevant facts to aid the electorate in reaching an informed judgment regarding the bond issue or ballot measure.” (Emphasis added.)
An impartial presentation of the facts will necessarily include all consequences, good and bad, of the proposal, not only the anticipated improvement in educational opportunities, but also the increased tax rate and such other less desirable consequences as may be foreseen. Citizens to Protect Public Funds v. Board of Education (1953) 98 A.2d 673
Jabbar clearly stated his intention in “bombarding” the public is to build voter support for the bond measure. He is advocating illegal action by the district.
Jabbar and the AUHSD crew are so accustomed to using taxpayer resources for political purposes that it doesn’t occur to them they’ve crossed the line.