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Is the Sequoia High School District engaging in political advocacy using tax dollars?

Original post made by Jack Hickey, Woodside: Emerald Hills, on Apr 9, 2014

On January 29, 2014, Superintendent Lianides sent an e-mail to parents announcing 6 Community meetings. See:Web Link
A Powerpoint presented was prepared for those meetings. See: Web Link
The next to last page in that presentation states:
* A facilities bond WILL(emphasis added) be placed on the ballot either in June or November of 2014. A decision on the election date will be made this month.
* The Board will be discussing polling results at its February 12 meeting.
* Parents across the District are beginning to organize a campaign.
Do these communications fit the categories identified by the Supreme Court as being unambiguously campaign related? See: Web Link

Comments (1)

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Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 9, 2014 at 4:26 pm

From minutes of 12 February meeting of Sequoia High School District. Campaign activity is clearly present.

Brian Godbe, of Godbe Research, reviewed to results of the poll of 800 likely voters within the
Possible Bond Election district conducted during the last two weeks in January. Mr. Godbe said the purpose of the
feasibility telephone survey was to look at public perceptions of the district and assess voter support
of a bond placed on the ballot either in June or November 2014. He reported that the first section of
the survey dealt with the climate of the district and the quality of education being provided; he noted
that the results were very good. The other sections dealt with managing tax payer dollars, rating the
physical condition of the district's facilities, and the presentation of a sample ballot question. Mr.
Godbe noted that this was the opportunity for the district to tell its story. He advised that the district
had the option of going to the voters in June or November and there was a reasonably good chance
that the bond measure would be successful.
President Weiner noted that the difference between June and November was within the margin of
error and was not statistically significant.
Trustee Thomsen said he was interested in taking a look at a subset of the list of voters who were on
the fence and had indicated "maybe" they would vote for item(s) for which the district might expend
bond funds. In response to questions posed by Trustee Thomsen, Mr Godbe explained that there
was no statistical difference between going for the bond in June or November, however in June
there was less opportunity for variables to occur and there is less uncertainty. He recommended that
the district begin preparing for June because that provides options. Mr. Godbe said in regard to the
dollar amount and corresponding tax rate surveyed, there was no difference in the taxpayers'
responses if the dollar amount was changed. He agreed with Trustee Thomsen that there were
indications of a fairly high confidence level and a very good chance of being successful with a bond
amount of $16 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Superintendent Lianides advised that Trustee Thomsen would like to look at the subset of voters
indicating "maybe" and identify what they would respond to most.
Sarah Stern-Benoit, Bond Consultant for TBWB Strategies, said when looking at the positive results
presented and the process moving forward, there was concern that confidence could alter the steps
that are necessary to attain a successful election. Elements for success include qualitative
conversations with people containing data that will create community consensus for this measure to
get a super majority vote. This includes sharing with people, both internal and external
stakeholders, a compelling plan going forward. You will need volunteers to run the campaign. No
district funds or resources can be used for the campaign. Meetings should be held with community
members, within the school district, and communication about the bond should be sent out. Ms.
Stern-Benoit suggested developing the ballot measure, and working on a ballot argument in favor of
the measure. The deadline for placing a measure on the ballot for the June 3 election is March 7.
The ballots are mailed in early May—between now and May the campaign would be well
underway. For the November election, the bond would be placed on the ballot in early August, and
the community outreach timeline would still be only until June.
President Weiner said there was no question that we need the bond, and we need these resources.
He noted that June is better than November because that gets resources to the district six months
sooner. It takes two years to construct a building. If we want facilities open in 2016 to meet our
projected enrollment growth, we should go to the voters in June, provided that we conclude that:
(1) we are confident that the Facilities Task Force has developed a sound assessment of the
needs of the district; (2) we have identified the leadership and have the capacity to run a
campaign, and (3) we have a strategy for communicating our message about the need for a
bond to the public. President Weiner said we are confident that the Facilities Task Force has
developed a sound assessment of the needs of the district. We have the leadership and capacity to
run a campaign. He asked Board members to comment on when the district should place a measure
on the ballot, in June or November. President Weiner advised that the Board will provide guidance
on the messaging.
Minutes for 2/12/14, Board Meeting
Page 4
SDTA President Edith Salvatore asked if the teachers had a voice in the process and noted they have
had only two opportunities to provide input. Our members understand the pressures of
overcrowding and the need for more space, and they don't understand why there has not been a
survey sent out. We have another 600 people who work in the schools that need to be part of the
process as it goes forward.
Jennifer Webb, Sequoia High School parent, and Facilities Task Force member, said she was
pleased to see the numbers from the poll, and it was great that the voters understood the plan the
task force had developed. Her efforts were to secure volunteer leadership to run the bond campaign.
She was seeing enthusiasm; however, a full committee has not come forward. A concerted public
outreach effort is needed.
In response to a question posed by President Weiner, Student Trustee Porter said we need to know
there is a strong campaign staff in place for a June bond election.
Trustee Thomsen said the need for a bond is great and compelling, and the sooner the better. It is
essential to have the leadership team prior to moving forward. Because of the confidence level of
the community, Trustee Thomsen suggested working toward the $250-$260 million target. For the
record, the facilities committee has presented a well-substantiated number and his hope was the
bond amount is at a higher level to meet the needs of the district. Trustee Thomsen suggested that
the Facilities Task Force be an ongoing committee that included teachers.
Trustee Sarver said he agreed that the bond was essential, and said it was important that it be placed
on the ballot in June. Public awareness is needed. Trustee Sarver suggested information concerning
the bond be placed on the district and school websites. He noted that obtaining public support and
responding to feedback is what will ultimately pass the bond.
In response to a question posed by Trustee Martinez, Sarah Stern Benoit said that a campaign
consulting firm provides overall strategies, writing, messaging, and trouble shooting for the
campaign relative to the field effort and fundraising. A campaign manager and paid staff member
are hired to manage phone banks and handle source materials. The volunteers have specific roles
and are focused on the things we cannot do. It is a short-lived activity with an end date. Dr.
Martinez said she too wanted to target for a June election because momentum would be lost over the
summer; in addition, this is a good opportunity to tell our story. Trustee Martinez suggested going
for as low amount as possible because we should be cognitive of the fact that we are trustees of the
public trust.
Trustee Du Bois noted that she had heard parents in Belmont, Redwood City, and San Carlos had
asked that we wait until November. Jennifer Webb noted that Las Lomitas and Menlo Park
elementary district families are the most impacted and have been particularly engaged, and on-board
for a June ballot. She noted the campaign needed fundraising and volunteer co-chairs, and those
leaders drive the campaign. There also needs to be outreach to middle school parents. Trustee Du
Bois said she felt November is more respectful of the volunteers and allowed more time to increase
public awareness. She would be willing to go with June if there were two strong co-chairs, one
residing in the district's north boundary and the other in the southern area. She would like to hear
from the teachers; and if they were desperate for space, she would go for June.
President Weiner said we need to have a sound sense of what the needs are and a process in place
for our next Board meeting. We want to have a collaborative, involved process with our teachers.
We do have a Facilities Task Force plan; how we build to address those needs is an ongoing
process. We need a strategy plan for raising public awareness, and by working with consultants
such as Ms. Stern-Benoit we will have an understanding how that need will be met. By the next
meeting we should know if there is a campaign leadership team in place.
In response to a question posed by President Weiner, Dr. Lianides said by February 26 we will
know to what degree we have filled the campaign leadership positions. He noted that the
fundraising co-chair is a key position because funds to finance the campaign are needed soon. We
are looking at having a plan in place to build public awareness.


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