Could Misleading Ballot Language Jeopardize LPOSD Activities?
The Lake Pend Oreille School District (LPOSD) is implementing a full court press to combat “mistrust in the school district”, according to Superintendent Woodward.
However, in their effort to sway public opinion regarding the March supplemental levy vote, LPOSD seems to have created an unintended legal issue with the ballot language they submitted to the Bonner County Clerk. The ballot language declares a restrictive funding condition that has the potential to jeopardize LPOSD’s implementation of some student and extracurricular activities.
Angelo Lonzisero, local taxpayer and recent private-school trustee, stated that “after observing the official ballot language and the LPOSD levy flyer, I came to the realization that marketing language was used rather than legal language found elsewhere on the ballot. I consulted with public officials, a private attorney, and members of the community and came to the conclusion that bringing this issue to the public’s attention is the most appropriate and timely way to alert voters on both sides of this issue.”
A check with Bonner County Clerk Michael Rosedale revealed that “he does not have any material input on the creation of ballot language, ballot language intent, or messaging of the supplemental levy”. Mr. Rosedale said the ballot is a legally binding document, and that this ballot will be used in the March election in the Lake Pend Oreille School District, which encompasses 23 of the county’s 33 voting precincts. He noted that the cost to the taxpayers of Bonner County for this LPOSD levy vote “is approximately $75,000 irrespective of the alleged language conflict.” Further, Rosedale answered, “yes, I’m excited when electors take interest in voting and when voter turnout is high for that makes clear the will of the people.”
LPOSD CFO Lisa Hals has indicated a Bond Council representing the school district was responsible for the language and placing the Bond on the ballot.
The ballot language, approved by Superintendent Woodward, the board, and LPOSD staff, is based on Resolution #17-01, “Resolution Calling for Supplemental Levy Election”, which was approved in a 4-0 vote by the LPOSD Board of Trustees (excepting Trustee Joan Fish, who was absent) at a regular Board of Trustees meeting on January 10, 2017. The Resolution language has the same intent and construction as the ballot language. Chief Deputy Tim Hurst of the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office confirmed that “The Resolution approved by the Board of Trustees is a legally binding agreement.”
On both the Resolution and the ballot it states that “The levy will fund the following purposes: … ii) “100% of student activities and extracurricular funding”. This language reinforces the first and second editions of the LPOSD levy flyer as well, establishing an undeniable intent that fully “100% of student activities and extracurricular funding” is paid by the supplemental levy up to the maximum of “$765,409/Year”.
Ballot Language Dilemma
This language is at the root of a self-created dilemma by LPOSD: by representing to the voter that the levy pays 100% of the student and extracurricular activities, they legally have to do exactly that without exceeding the identified legal maximum amount of $765,409/Year.
Assuming voters pass the levy and LPOSD subsequently spends any amount of funds not originating from the supplemental levy funds, it follows that either Idaho Code 18-2407 or 18-2403 would apply under the elements of theft, which might consist of the following:
Paragraph (1) A person steals property and commits theft when, with intent to deprive another of property or to appropriate the same to himself or to a third person, he wrongfully takes, obtains or withholds such property from an owner thereof.
Paragraph (2) By theft: includes a wrongful taking, obtaining or withholding of another’s property, with the intent prescribed in subsection (1) of this section, committed in any of the following ways:
(a) By deception obtains or exerts control over property of the owner;
Paragraph (2)(d) By false promise: 1. A person obtains property by false promise when pursuant to a scheme to defraud, he obtains property of another by means of a representation, express or implied, that he or a third person will in the future engage in particular conduct, and when he does not intend to engage in such conduct or, as the case may be, does not believe that the third person intends to engage in such conduct.
Issues related to the ballot language of a local taxing district such as a school district would, according to Scott Graf, Constituent Services at the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, “be challenged in the District Court of jurisdiction”.
Implications and Consequences
School sponsored activities reasonably include any activity involving an LPOSD bank account, ledger or journal entry made by a clerk of LPOSD; participation of any paid LPOSD agent such as a teacher, coach, advisor or staff member; any paid-for student activity on LPOSD-owned or –rented grounds; any tax-exempt status applied to any purchase involving LPOSD; and/or any insurance liability application of any LPOSD event involving student and extracurricular activities.
Any LPOSD organizational involvement in student fundraising of non-levy funds and their subsequent distribution to student and extracurricular activities would have to be restricted to remain compliant with the identified declaration of “100%” in the ballot language. This includes the most noteworthy organization that contributes to LPOSD extracurricular sports activities, Bulldog Bench, that donates money directly to various sports teams/programs which is used for athletic equipment and uniforms. This is one of the more obvious and negative impacts relating specifically to athletic extracurricular activities and funding.
LPOSD’s ballot language dilemma extends in greater degree to various academic and vocational travel opportunities associated with LPOSD-sponsored student and extracurricular activities. Student social clubs like the Business Professionals of America (BPA) and Health Occupational Students of America (HOSA), student activity clubs that travel frequently, would be most negatively affected as they have NO budget line item protections, unlike the athletic extracurricular activities.
The social and travel clubs like the Model United Nations (MUN) and the International Service Clubs would suffer great loss with the passing of this restrictive LPOSD ballot.
Regardless of which group(s) loses funding and travel opportunities, LPOSD would be required to cease funding from the supplemental levy funds for any and all activities falling within item “ii)” of the ballot once the total funding amount exceeds $765,409, most of which is already dedicated to specific sporting activities, thus effecting to a greater degree academic, fundraising, social and vocational activities .
LPOSD’s ballot language would also endanger $613,441.00 identified on page 25 as “student activity program,” of the LPOSD CFO – Treasurer’s Report, 7-1-16 through 1-31-17, provided in the February 14, 2017, Board Packet pdf-file, or available upon request from LPOSD. The extensive list of student and extracurricular activity funds, mostly fundraising, that have no dedicated line items in the budget and which totals $968,719, can be found among pages 67-79 of this same report.
The electors have two options:
Approve the ballot language as written by voting IN FAVOR, thereby tempting fate that legal process and expense will not be experienced, or
Reject the current ballot language by voting AGAINST, and then approve a revised ballot of appropriate and legally binding language (eliminate 100%) at the May 2017 election.
Regarding the second option, an outspoken critic of this supplemental levy, Daniel Rose of Samuels, commented,
“dismissing the ballot language peril under any circumstance(s) would be setting a repugnant precedence that a taxing district can boldly lie on legal document / Agreement and be immune as they take tax-payer dollars from those who were misled. I support schools and honorable two-way communications, contrary to LPOSD surrogate allegations that I don’t. I believe a zero-percent supplemental levy increase and unrestrictive ballot language would pass in May without question!”
LPOSD did forego a supplemental levy vote in the November 2016 election, which would have saved election expenses and permitted the March election date as an alternative election opportunity. To that Rose states,
“LPOSD management intentionally chose to put forth, and continues to espouse a false narrative …, the all-or-nothing or “nuclear” option favoring a March election. LPOSD has made little mention, and far too late, of the alternative availability of the May election, while simultaneously declaring that if this levy fails they will seek school closings and layoffs. This is patently false, conscientiously deceitful fear mongering, and tantamount to malfeasance conduct. I’m voting AGAINST on March 14, to prompt a better-stated reject-and-replace levy.”
The three major school districts operating in Bonner and Boundary counties will have a supplemental levy issue on their respective ballots on Tuesday, March 14, 2017. LPOSD is the only district asking for an increase.