The Fresno Unified School District has spent more than $30,000 on fliers detailing what the passage of Measure X would mean for schools if passed on Tuesday.
While the district contends that the four-page pamphlets – sent to homes of Fresno Unified parents and employees – are legal because they do not urge anyone to vote for Measure X, two school board members say the district is being deceptive.
Trustees Carol Mills and Brooke Ashjian, who are campaigning against the proposed $225 million school bond measure, say that the district has used the mailers and and newspaper ads to wrongly promote Measure X. Measure X phone recordings are also played when callers to the district office are put on hold.
“We have supposedly no money for nurses, teachers and special ed children, but we do have money to promote propaganda,” Ashjian said Monday. “Quite frankly, our compass for kids stopped working a long time ago.”
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Fresno Unified spokesman Miguel Arias said the district is within the law, and that the mailers were actually created in response to Mills’ and Ashjian’s criticism. Arias said the cost of the mailers is minimal compared to the trustees’ spending against Measure X, alongside the California Charter Schools Association.
Why is district money being spent on this?
FUSD Trustee Carol Mills
The content of the district-funded fliers does not say to vote for Measure X, but details how money would be spent, which schools would see potential upgrades and how much matching state funds would be attached to bond dollars.
“Measure X would be used to fund a portion of the district’s $1 billion in facility needs, as outlined in the facilities master plan, while maintaining the current authorized tax rate and building upon previous investments,” the mailer says. “Fresno Unified uses its facilities master plan as one tool for facilities planning. The plan, developed with extensive community input and approved by the board of education in April 2009, provides guidance and vision for improving district facilities while anticipating future needs.”
According to the Fair Political Practices Commission, informational material from Fresno Unified is permitted, while campaign material is not. Mailed materials related to the measure must be a fair presentation of facts serving only an informational purpose, and anything regarding the importance of a specific service “must be moderate in tone and may not urge the voters how to vote,” according to the FPPC.
It doesn’t advocate for passage of the bond, it just assures the facts about the projects.
FUSD spokesman Miguel Arias
A flier that “lists the benefits of the measure in an argumentative or inflammatory manner” would be considered campaign materials and may be prohibited as an illegal mass mailing.
“It is important to remember that the entirety of the communication and the factual circumstances under which the communication was made must be considered in determining whether any particular communication is campaign material or activity,” according to the FPPC. “Merely labeling a communication as ‘informational’ is not determinative as to whether a communication is informational material or campaign material or activity.”
The California Charter Schools Association has spent about $100,000 campaigning against Measure X. Ashjian is the treasurer of Schools Not Scams – the political action committee heading efforts against Measure X – and has spent about $3,500 in his own money, mostly on signs. He said Monday that outside contributions for a full page ad in The Bee have not yet been reported with the county.
“In response of criticism from two board members claiming the district was not transparent enough when sharing details of the board-approved bond facilities projects, the district mailed an informational piece to homes, school sites and placed a full-page ad in Sunday’s Fresno Bee,” Arias said. “This cost is minimal given the more than $100k spent by the two trustees and their special interest Sacramento group on the misinformation on Measure X and the master facilities plan.”