A state representative and a governing board candidate's concerns about the intent of a recent Glendale Union High School District publication has spurred an investigation by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.
The County Attorney is in the information-gathering stage, spokesperson Bill Fitzgerald said.
Rep. Linda Gray, (R-Dist. 16), chair of Arizona's House education appropriations committee, and GUHSD Governing Board candidate David Braswell are questioning a report mailed to more than 135,500 residences in the district the week of Oct. 7.
Braswell and Gray contend the report prominently features incumbents Kevin Clayborn and Ian Hugh in violation of state statute.
A.R.S. 15 - 511 prohibits the use of school district resources or employees to influence an election.
"The candidates who are running are heavily featured here," Gray said. "There's no way the other candidates can afford to send out 130,000 brochures."
"What is the purpose of this brochure four weeks before an election?" Braswell asked. "I don't appreciate having these kinds of funds spent when every dollar is scrutinized by the legislature and taxpayers for use to improve quality in the classroom."
Gray and Braswell noted the marked improvement in the community report over last year's quarterly newsletters, which were printed in blue and black ink on one 11-inch-by-17-inch sheet folded in half. This year's version is a 12-page booklet with a full-color cover.
GUHSD spokesperson Carole Sabo, whose public affairs department produced the piece, said the brochure was printed at a cost of $9,988.52. Postage costs were $9,760, although Sabo said she has not received a final invoice from the company responsible for the mailing.
Assistant Superintendent Gene Dudo said $53,850 was budgeted last year for printing costs in the public affairs department, including the four newsletters. The same amount was budgeted for this school year.
Sabo said her department stayed within budget for last year's newsletters, which were mailed in August 2001, November 2001, February 2002 and May 2002. Mailing costs for the new report and its additional pages were the same as last year.
After Superintendent Vernon Jacobs took the reins of the district in July, he decided to update the newsletters.
"We've been in the process of upgrading it over a period of time," Jacobs said. "We looked at reports from other districts and tried to match the quality."
Dudo said GUHSD has produced newsletters each year for the past 15 years. Dudo said no classroom funds were used in the production of the community report.
Another purpose of the piece, Dudo said, is to attract students from private and charter schools to the district.
"This is not a political document that was put out n this is the first quarterly report," Dudo said. "We intend all of them to be this great."
Charles Fine, GUHSD's attorney, responded to Gray's allegations.
"Even a cursory review of the newsletter fails to indicate any reference to any election of any kind," Fine said in a letter to the district. "Therefore, since the newsletter is devoid of any mention, direct or indirect, of an election, in order to claim that it is somehow linked to electioneering, it would have to be interpreted as having a direct or casual basis for influencing an election."
Fine quoted the last sentence of subsection A of ARS 15-511: " ‘Nothing in this section precludes a school district from reporting on official actions of the Governing Board.' "
"There is no doubt that the newsletter contains information ‘on official actions' of the Board members and the schools," Fine said. "On this basis alone, the claim that the newsletter violates the above-quoted statutory provision lacks judicial merit."
Braswell and Gray are not alone in questioning the report.
A letter dated Oct. 14 sent to The Glendale Star by Gray, W. Scott Donaldson, whose children will attend Washington High School next year, provides the district with a notice of claim regarding the community report.
"The timing, formatting and contents of this first-ever Community Report constitute a violation of A.R.S. 15-511," Donaldson wrote. "The document is designed to promote the candidacies of Mr. Clayborn and Mr. Hugh in blatant violation of the statute.
"I strongly support our public school systems and therefore protest the Report's timing and content. There is no rational reason for sending the Report, basically GUHSD's first annual report extolling the virtues of the sitting Board members, less than a month before the election. The action presents at the very least the appearance of impropriety and will ultimately endanger GUHSD's funding mechanisms."
In the letter, Donaldson said he is seeking damages in the amount of the cost of the brochure "to be contributed to appropriate student activity funds."
GUHSD patron Clarissa Cosgrove also had questions about the brochure and the timing of the mailing.
"They haven't put anything out in months," Cosgrove said. "I've never seen anything done like this come from the Glendale Union High School District. Kevin Clayborn has his picture slapped in here three times; Hugh, four times."
Although Cosgrove lives in the district and her daughter does not attend a GUHSD school, Cosgrove has met with Greenway High School Principal Warren Jacobson about the possibility of transferring the girl to the school from a charter school.