A San Antonio-area school district says an email from a district principal telling staff to vote for a nearly $1 billion school funding bond was a miscommunication and was not meant as an endorsement amid concerns the comment may have violated election law.
Northside Independent School District found itself in hot water over the weekend after school choice activist Corey DeAngelis shared a lengthy Twitter thread of an email sent by a principal at a district school telling staff they had to vote in favor of a ballot initiative that would secure nearly $1 billion in funding for the district. The initiative passed over the weekend with over 57% support, even as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the state government would investigate the situation for possible election law violations.
In a Monday statement provided to the Washington Examiner, the district said that the principal's message was only supposed to encourage voter participation and was "never intended to be coercive, and immediate measures were taken to clarify and correct any messaging that may have been misrepresented, misinterpreted, or miscommunicated."
SCOOP: A Texas public school principal notified "all employees [that they] will be expected [by the superintendent] to vote for this Bond" to increase school funding by $992 million and that "Central Office will be monitoring"— Corey A. DeAngelis (@DeAngelisCorey) May 7, 2022
I've obtained whistleblower documents 👇🧵
NATIONAL GROUP BACKING ANTI-CRT SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES FINDS SUCCESS IN TEXAS
"Throughout this school bond election, NISD has communicated with bond legal counsel to ensure all legal requirements have been met, including an ethics presentation by bond legal counsel to all district leaders," the district said. "NISD has utilized common practices and strategies to analyze and gauge voter engagement — always with the intent to educate and inform our stakeholders and to encourage voter participation."
The district did not respond to a follow-up inquiry about what corrective measures had been taken to clarify the principal's comments. The April 18 newsletter said, "All employees will be expected to vote for this year's bond," which would help cover the cost of replacing school fire alarm systems, among other things.
The district only addressed the principal's April 18 newsletter in its statement, but in a separate newsletter dated April 21, district superintendent Brian Woods said that if the 2022 bond did not pass, it could result in substantial budget cuts.
"This is an important election," Woods wrote in the email. "If bond funds from School Bond 2022 are not available to us, we will still have maintenance repairs and needs that are necessary. To set aside millions of dollars to fix chillers and roofs would require budget cuts in our general fund."
The controversy drew the attention of Abbott, who responded to DeAngelis's tweet saying the principal's comments could constitute criminal activity and announced he had directed Mike Morath, the state education commissioner, and Ken Paxton, the state attorney general, to investigate the matter.
I have spoken with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath about this.— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) May 7, 2022
He confirms that IF these posts are verified, then it is likely a crime.
The Education Commissioner with work with the Attorney General's Office to investigate and, if appropriate, prosecute this matter. https://t.co/FxXdQgeLlG
The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The governor's directive drew the ire of the Northside American Federation of Teachers, the local teachers union, which told local news outlet KSAT that the governor's comments were "political rhetoric" and that if Abbott cared about funding public schools, then "schools should be properly funded, so they don’t have to seek bonds."
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The outlet reported that Northside AFT had expressed concerns about the bond election, and a spokesperson for the union couldn't say what the district had done to address its concerns. The union had backed the bond resolution, saying it was "necessary in order to maintain and do what needs to be done across the district with our current schools and schools that need to be built.”