Political Email From Union Superintendent Raises Legal Questions

Monday, November 5th 2012, 6:55 pm
By: Emory Bryan

A school superintendent's job involves a lot of interaction with politics, especially connected to school funding.

But Monday some of our viewers and readers questioned where the line is for school superintendents in lobbying on state questions.

It's not unusual for school superintendents to take positions on what politicians are doing about school funding. But it's less common for superintendents to take public positions on political issues, like state questions.

That's why an email from Union Superintendent Cathy Burden raised some eyebrows.

10/30/2012 Related Story: Oklahoma Voters To Cast Ballots On Six State Questions

The email is about State Questions 758 and 766, and says, "those of us who advocate for students do not want them to pass."

It's the bottom line of an email that says ballot issues are a "threat" to public school funding.

Both state questions are about property taxes—the main funding source for public schools.

One would limit increases, while the other would roll back a property tax that's being collected and prevent new similar taxes. Both could impact how much money schools get.

But state law generally prohibits school administrators from using school time or resources to influence elections, even bond elections and state referendums.

The exception is, "political activities or statements inherent to a state employee's duties."

So, the question is whether that exception covers state questions that impact school funding, which is a big part of what superintendents deal with.

Superintendent Burden wasn't available for comment by our deadline and the district's attorney, Doug Mann, was researching the relevant law.