By Will Johnson
GRAPELAND – The Grapeland Independent School District Board of Trustees was given a bit of legal advice concerning how to present the recently approved bond initiative to the public during a called meeting held on Monday, Feb. 27.
As the meeting got underway, GISD Superintendent Gregg Spivey introduced attorney Darrick Eugene, a partner in the law firm of Powell and Leon, LLP.
“Tonight, he is here to give us a lot of information and answer any questions we may have about the bond election process,” the superintendent said.
“Congratulations on calling your bond election for May 6,” the attorney said as he began his presentation. “Hopefully, the information I provide to you will be helpful as you go about the proper procedures for handling this bond election.”
Eugene said he hoped to clarify what the laws governing school bond elections covered and what the role of the district was.
“The Texas Election Code basically governs what the district’s position is in the bond election. Basically what the code says is the district can’t expend any resources on political advertising on advocating for the bond. It’s about following the money. If a question comes up and you can link back to any funds being spent by the district, that’s a no-no,” he said.
Eugene stressed, however, if the district presented only factual information – under the code – that was acceptable.
“Anything the school district is promoting can’t be considered political advertising or advocating on behalf of the bond, but you can use the media to distribute factual information,” he said.
The attorney also indicated tone and emphasis could be a factor as to whether the district violated any statutes when discussing the bond.
Eugene provided several examples of this. One specific example he gave was that it was acceptable to indicate enrollment had increased by a certain amount of students in the past few years.
However, he explained it was not acceptable to say “Enrollment is projected to grow by another 100 students in the next school year, get the picture?”
“Just that change in tone and emphasis changes the statement from providing factual information to the realm of political advocacy,” the attorney explained.
As the attorney continued, several questions were asked regarding statements made by board members to members of the general public. Eugene explained as long as the statements were not put forth in a school sponsored document, it was ok.
In its simplest terms, the attorney said if the board member issued a statement using his own resources and wrote a letter-to-the-editor, for example, that was ok. If the board member used the district’s resources to draft the letter, however, the issue would come under scrutiny.
“Although you may not use school district resources to campaign, school district employees are free to campaign for or against the proposition on their own time and using their own resources,” he said.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.