The Transylvania Times -

Board Hears School Bond Rules - Brevard NC

 

August 23, 2018



At the Transylvania County Board of Education meeting Monday evening, Board Attorney Chris Campbell informed school board members and school staff what they can and cannot do to advocate for the passage of the school bond referendum slated for November.

Campbell said the purpose of discussing the guidelines in open session was to make sure that everyone is on the same page and to allow people to publicly ask questions.

“There’s nothing to hide here. The law is straightforward,” Campbell said. “We want to be on the same page and we want to do this right.”

Campbell said employees need some guidance as to what they can and can’t do, and when they can and can’t do it.

He said employees cannot feel obligated to do more than their job, but that if they want to advocate for the bond on their own time, they can do so under the First Amendment.

Campbell said the school board and county commissioners had taken a good step in the wording of the ballot referendum because it lets voters know the amount of the bond ($68 million), how it will be paid (a tax levy to cover the principal and interest) and where the money will be spent (Brevard High, Rosman High and Rosman Middle schools).

Campbell then presented a chart showing what the school board, superintendent, staff and Vote Yes Committee could do during various stages.

He added that every bond proposal needs an action committee that is favorable to the bond.

That committee usually raises private money to print T-shirts, buy billboard space, produce yard signs, etc. that advocate for passage of the bond.

“They will be raising private money,” said Campbell, who added that donations to the committee would not be tax-deductible.

In general, school employees cannot promote the bond while they are acting as school employees, but they can advocate for the bond on their own time.

Campbell said the school board has the right to pass a resolution endorsing the bond referendum and that on school time, the superintendent can communicate the board’s position to the public.

The superintendent is the only school employee who can communicate the board’s position on school time.

He also said that it is appropriate for the school board to spend money to educate voters as to how the money will be spent.

“That is an educational part of your job,” Campbell told the board. “That information is fair game. You are literally educating the voters.”

He said that information can be provided at community events, but there cannot be an advocacy group at that informational event.

He emphasized that any school employees, while at work, cannot mix information and advocacy.

“If there are going to be pep rallies, let your Vote Yes committee do that,” he said.

Campbell said the private individuals and advocacy groups, such as PTOs or booster clubs, can use the educational information any way they see fit.

“That’s their business,” he said.

He also said that school board members can individually advocate for passage of the bond as long as they are not convened as a board and not spending any taxpayer money.

As a school board, they are limited to just passing a resolution and educating the public.

Several board members, staff and members of the audience then asked specific questions.

Board member Alice Wellborn asked if a board member could attend an event advocating for the bond’s passage.

Campbell said a board member could, as long as there were not a majority of board members attending. If there were, they could be in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law.

Board member Marty Griffin asked about a scenario in which a teacher whose duties are officially supposed to end at 3:30 but is present when a parent comes to pick up a child at 3:40 could advocate for the bond at that time.

Campbell said the teacher could not because the teacher would still be acting in the capacity of a teacher, even though the official school day had ended.

Griffin then asked about teachers who were at school functions, such as a football game, but were not on duty.

Campbell said if staff are off duty and present just like members of the general public, then they are allowed to advocate for the bond.

“If you’re off duty, you’re off duty,” said Campbell.

Regarding postings on social media, Campbell said teachers and organizations like the PTO or booster clubs could advocate on their own private pages, but they could not advocate for the bond on any school-sanctioned page.

Organizations like the PTO also cannot use lists generated by the schools to advocate for the bond, but they can use lists if they are generated by the organizations themselves.

When asked if students could advocate for the bond, Campbell said they are under guidelines similar to teachers.

He said, however, that under the First Amendment students can wear T-shirts supporting or opposing the bond.

When asked if a private organization could hand out T-shirts at school, Campbell said they should not deviate from normal protocols.

He said a better idea would be for the private organization to announce a spot at which anyone could pick up a T-shirt.

“Let’s keep it away from the school campus,” said Campbell.

As for working the polls on election day, Campbell said school board members and private individuals could work the polls.

If teachers or other school employees were going to work the polls, they would have to take a leave day.

However, the normal protocols for allowing staff to take leave days would have to be followed and the school system could not let large numbers of teachers take such leave.

Campbell said that frequently asked questions about the bond referendum and what school employees and groups can and cannot do will be placed on the school system website as a reference for school staff and the community.

After Campbell’s presentation, County Commission Chair Larry Chapman praised Campbell for his “excellent presentation” and offered the school board use of the county commission chambers.

He said meetings from the commissioner meetings in that chamber are live streamed and that the school board might be able to reach more people in the community regarding the bond if they held some of their upcoming meetings in the commission chambers.

“We’ve got a long way to educate the public,” said Chapman. “I just want to make that available to you.”

The board members thanked Chapman for the offer.

Superintendent Jeff McDaris said the schematic and concept designs for the three schools would be presented at the next school board meeting on Monday, Sept. 17. Board Vice Chair Ron Kiviniemi, however, said he would like to have a special meeting for that presentation.

Wellborn agreed, noting that some people who had attended Campbell’s presentation thought they would be seeing the schematic and concept designs instead.

Griffin said he would like to have that meeting prior to the Sept. 17 meeting because it would be beneficial to a committee advocating for the bond’s passage.

The board then agreed, contingent upon there being no scheduling conflicts and the architectural firm Clark Nexsen having completed its schematic and concept and designs, to hold a special meeting on Monday, Sept. 10, for that purpose.

 
 

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