A Goffstown School District email notice about a meeting backfired when some residents accused the administration of political campaigning on behalf of the School Board.
Superintendent of Schools Stacy Buckley recently apologized for the email, which she sent to parents asking them to show up to a Budget Committee hearing and support the proposed school budget.
The email was sent out Jan. 9, in advance of a hearing on Jan. 13. In the email, Buckley notified parents of the date and location, then asked them to back the School Board’s budget.
“I would encourage all Goffstown residents to attend this hearing to provide support for the School Board’s recommended budget,” Buckley wrote.
At the time, the Budget Committee was recommending a $561,379 cut to the school budget. The e-mail was sent out to a list used to notify parents of school closings, their children’s grades and to make other routine announcements.
More than 80 percent of parents in Goffstown are on the e-mail list, according to School Board Chairman Keith Allard.
At least one parent and one Budget Committee member, Bill Gordon, have protested the email as a misuse of school district resources for political purposes.
“It wouldn’t be so bad if they said just this, ‘There’s a meeting. You may want to attend. This is what it’s about,’” said Bill Wynne, the parent. “Once they said support the budget, the proposed budget of the School Board, that steps over the line.”
Wynne called Buckley and asked her to resign over the matter. She refused. But, at the Jan. 19 meeting of the School Board, she did apologize.
“I sincerely apologize to the public for this email,” Buckley said. “I in no way intended to create mistrust with the public. Please know that I understand the difficulties this has created for some people and I apologize for that. I appreciate the public’s understanding and concerns for the appropriate use of all district resources and information. Please know that in the future you can be certain that this will not happen again.”
Allard also apologized to the public. He said he and Buckley had spoken about issuing a message to parents about the budget hearing, but they did not discuss the wording or how the email would be sent.
Allard was concerned about one sentence in the e-mail, where Buckley asks for the public to support the budget.
“Usually we try to be more generic and encourage parents to come out and be part of the process,” he said in an interview. “That’s been our common past practice in the district.”
Allard said the email did not violate any school district policies or laws of which he was aware. Also, he said Buckley has the authority to send the e-mail without having it proofread or approved by the School Board beforehand. But he is asking School Board to draft a policy establishing guidelines for future communication with parents.
“In order to prevent any future misunderstandings or concerns among the residents of Goffstown, I will request that the HR Committee of the Goffstown School Board investigate either the formation of a new policy or a modification of an existing policy and provide a recommendation back to the board that will establish parameters for future communications,” Allard said.
Before the meeting, Wynne had appealed the issue to state education Commissioner Lyonel Tracy, asking his department to put Buckley on administrative leave while it investigated the matter. Tracy replied that Wynne should take it up with the School Board, which had the purview to determine whether the email was appropriate or not.
Tracy is wrong. This is a state issue and here is the law:
659:44-a Electioneering by Public Employees.
_ No public employee, as defined in RSA 273-A:1, IX, shall electioneer while
in the performance of his or her official duties or use government
property, including, but not limited to, telephones, facsimile machines,
vehicles, and computers, for electioneering. For the purposes of this
section, “electioneer” means to act in any way specifically designed to
influence the vote of a voter on any question or office. Any person who
violates this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
RSA 273-A:1, IX and X read as follows:
IX. “Public employee” means any person employed by a public employer
_ (a) Persons elected by popular vote;
_ (b) Persons appointed to office by the chief executive or legislative body
of the public employer;
_ (c) Persons whose duties imply a confidential relationship to the public
_ (d) Persons in a probationary or temporary status, or employed
seasonally, irregularly or on call. For the purposes of this chapter,
however, no employee shall be determined to be in a probationary status
who shall have been employed for more than 12 months or who has an
individual contract with his employer, nor shall any employee be
determined to be in a temporary status solely by reason of the source of
funding of the position in which he is employed.
_ X. “Public employer” means the state and any political subdivision
thereof, the judicial branch of the state, any quasi-public corporation,
council, commission, agency or authority, and the state university