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Former school board member to Legislature: Block officials from promoting political aims with taxpayer resources

Former school board member to Legislature: Block officials from promoting political aims with taxpayer resources

Dustin Hurst
February 4, 2017
Dustin Hurst
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February 4, 2017

A formerly elected school official in Kuna has asked state legislators to restrain local governments from using government resources to promote tax hikes.

Other Idahoans are also speaking out on the issue.

On Thursday, former Kuna School District Board Member Michael Law took to Facebook to declare his displeasure with the district using its website and staff time to promote an upcoming $40 million bond measure.

“There is nothing like making taxpayers pay for promoting a tax that many oppose,” Law wrote on the social media site. “The State of Idaho Legislature needs to stop taxing districts from using taxpayer funds to promote levies or bonds.”

Today, Law expounded in an interview with IdahoReporter.com, saying, “I think that at the very least it is unethical to use taxpayer money against the wishes of many of the taxpayers. It is borderline criminal to do so.”

Next month, the Kuna School District will ask taxpayers there to approve a $40 million bond plan to expand classroom space, renovate aging schools and add an athletic room to the high school. The district will also run a separate supplemental levy on the same ballot and ask voters for $2.5 million to update curriculum and technology.

Kuna’s not the only district asking taxpayers to fork over more cash -- and using taxpayer resources to spread word. This week, the Boise Independent School District sent some district residents a letter that promoted its $172 million bond measure.

Scott Phillips, who sends his kids to school in Boise, also took to social media to criticize the spending.

“The superintendent and president of the board of trustees even included an absentee ballot request form and a return envelope,” Phillips wrote on Facebook. “How thoughtful.”

Phillips, like Law, wondered why local governments use taxpayer cash to ask for more taxpayer cash.

“Am I alone in thinking using tax dollars to lobby for a tax increase is an improper use of the people’s money?” Phillips wrote.

Boise Independent School District is no stranger to using government resources to promote the bond plan. In December, the district and a pro-bond group coordinated to allow vote-yes advocates to speak before at least two Boise school audiences prior to student-led holiday programs.

At the time, Rory Jones, a Friends of Boise Schools leader and former trustee, defended the politicization of the holiday programs.

“There are very few times during the year when parents come into the schools on an organized basis,” Jones said. “Those are the times when information is provided. That’s part of the job of the trustees.”

IdahoReporter.com asked Jones, would opponents of the bond ever receive such a government-supported platform? Jones replied, “No.”

“There’s no need to provide equal time,” he said.

Kuna and Boise aren’t alone in their use of government resources to politick. Last year, the College of Western Idaho spent $370,000 to, in part, push a $255 million bond measure of its own. That proposal lost last November, having failed to clear the two-thirds voter-approval threshold at the polls.

Money for the CWI campaign came from the school’s strategic reserve account, which was previously funded by student fees. The school no longer charges students that fee.

Ahead of last November’s election, Meridian City Mayor Tammy DeWeerd used a city-funded utility bill to carry her pro-bond messages to town residents.

Note: The original version of this story listed Michael Law as a current member of the Kuna School District board. He left the post in July. The revised copy above reflects the change. IR regrets the error.

Additionally, the original version of this post characterized the CWI marketing campaign as taxpayer-funded. This article has been revised to reflect the use of student fees to fund the campaign. IR regrets the error.

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