St. Louis County School District reprimanded for 2009 referendum campaign
Judges find that district disseminated misleading and unfair information to voters.
Marshall Helmberger

SAINT PAUL— A three-judge panel of the Office of Administrative Hearings has reprimanded the St. Louis County School District for violating the state’s campaign finance law, by failing to report its spending to promote passage of a 2009 referendum. The decision was issued late Friday, May 30.

The panel further found that the district had disseminated information to voters, through newsletters and brochures, ahead of the ballot measure that was both inaccurate and misleading to voters. Much of that information was produced for the district by Johnson Controls, which stood to earn more than $11 million from the passage of the bond measure.

The panel specifically cited outdated financial claims made by the district as well as information the district provided on the tax implications of the vote, which the panel found was presented “unfairly.” The panel noted that the information the district sent to voters had made it appear as if it faced a dire financial crisis when, in fact, the district’s financial outlook had improved significantly months before.

The panel also cited the district’s unfair presentation of the benefits of their facilities improvement plan, which involved the closure of community schools in Tower, Cook, Cotton, and Orr. “By stressing only exaggerated benefits of a “yes” vote and then describing only the most extreme negative possibilities of a “no” vote, the District was not providing balanced informational material to its readers; it was advocating for a specific result— the passage of the ballot question,” wrote the judges.

The panel further found that the district spent in excess of $750 to promote the ballot measure, which triggers the reporting requirement under state law.

“This is a major victory for taxpayers,” said Tower Mayor Steve Abrahamson, who was one of two named plaintiffs in the suit. He was joined by Tim Kotzian, the president of the Coalition for Community Schools, which formed in the wake of the 2009 referendum. “We’ve complained for years that the school district narrowly passed its $79 million bond measure only by confusing and misinforming its voters,” said Abrahamson. “After three days of testimony and dozens of exhibits, the judges agreed with us. School officials have an obligation to apologize to district residents for what they did."

The complaint against the district was originally filed in 2010, but it spent over three years in litigation, which culminated in a landmark state Supreme Court decision last year. The case was remanded to the Office of Administration Hearings, which completed its evidentiary examination in April.

The Timberjay will publish a much more detailed report and editorial on the ruling in its June 6 edition.

Attachments
application/pdf; charset=binary, 487 KB
Not registered? Click here
E-mail this
Print this
Comments
5 comments on this item

All I can say is Gary Albertson is having hemorrhoids and diarrhea right now. As Public Relations agent for the School District, Johnson Controls and Bob Larson, he failed. Wait for his rag to come out on Thursday and read him rant about Helmberger, Kotzian and Abrahamson (who is too arrogant for my liking). This is a victory for the little people who gave nickels, dimes, a dollar or two here and there, and those who could give more. Anybody want to bet Albertson will be working to get his employer (the school district) to appeal this ruling and blame us for costing the school district and the taxpayers more money?

Too bad so many voters in Tower were sleepwalking. Many never voted not believing it would ever pass. Shame on you.

The vote should have been in June, this expensive nightmare would not have passed. Why we are paying most of Cherry and Cotton's levy is ridiculous. Split the district and the bills geographically. It's a ridiculous behemoth to maintain and a really bad, expensive joke. Better yet- dissolve it and go bankrupt. Open enrollment is already a huge draw away from the dysfunction that is 2142. If my kids were still in school they'd be getting their education in Virginia.

Don't feel bad, Tower-Soudan people did better than others. I had a hell of a time getting the drunks off the bar stools in Orr, yet even today, they still bitch about their tax statements. Some are only two digit IQ's and think the county increased their taxes and no amount of explanation can enlighten them that it is the school tax and they deserve to pay, since they were too busy BSing to go two blocks to vote. We only needed 250 votes the other way and we wouldn't be talking about this today. Please don't blame yourself, blame the lazy people.

It is still interesting to me to hear of so many in the area that didn't have a clue as to what they were voting on! Others around the area have said "Move on - what's done is done". I also have heard from downtown business owners who can't believe how much traffic has dropped since the schools closed. How could Albertson, as a local business owner, promote something that would significantly hurt is customers do deeply. You can see by the how the adds in his shopper has changed that he has been hurt by the loss of business's. I know I'm rambling here but the statement that still sticks with me regarding the false statements by JC and the teachers was "VOTE YES FOR LOWER TAXES"! So those on the fence or not informed thought that their taxes would go down by voting yes - how ignorant!

Jake: It is interesting! We tried to talk to people, but what does a person do when there is not brain matter up in the cranium? Sometimes one has better luck talking to a stump. Some of the people bitching about their taxes now can't even read a line item on their tax statement showing where their increases are coming from.

As for Albertson, obviously none of us can prove his tight association with JCI, former Superintendent Charles Rick and Board Chairman Bob Larson. But those of us that have lived a few years and have been around the block a few times can conclude by visual observation that Albertson is in the clique. Again, I refer back to our neighbors. Still today, a large number of people don't even know that Albertson gets paid by the School District to print and publish the monthly newsletter that arrives in our mailboxes. I am amazed how uninformed our people chose to be and not connect the dots. Gary knows this, he works it to his advantage and having this contract keeps his paper alive. Despite the contraction of businesses and advertisers in his shopper.

The teachers union, contrary to their claims, could care less about quality education. Getting the most money they can, cutting hours, bitching about class sizes and donating to left wing liberal causes like abortion, gun confiscation and the Sierra Club (the AFT is a member of the BlueGreen Alliance, google it if you don't believe me). We can't expect to see any improvements in the delivery of education unless we agree to the extortion they impose on us that pay the bills.

You must be logged in to post a comment. Click here to log in.