It’s clear that many local parents are passionate about next month’s Los Altos School District Board of Trustees election – and some of those in leadership roles appear to be blurring the lines between sharing information and endorsing candidates.
Nonprofit organizations with a tax-exempt 501(c)3 status, such as the Los Altos Educational Foundation and local PTAs, have limitations when it comes to endorsements. IRS regulations permit them to endorse measures but not specific candidates. Doing so – directly or indirectly – could put their tax-exempt status at risk.
Local parents often wear several hats – volunteer leader, fundraiser and private individual – leading to questions about how they should sign their emails and where they may post information during what has been a heated campaign.
Kristine Bardman, co-president of the Los Altos Educational Foundation, recently sent an email with details about a coffee for two of the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees candidates, Pablo Luther and Steve Taglio. She signed her name at the bottom of the email with her title as co-president of the foundation.
Bardman said she had been writing educational foundation emails all morning and signed that email with her title out of habit.
“I did it by accident,” she said. “I did not mean it as an endorsement. When I sent out that note from my personal email address to a neighborhood group, Nextdoor Los Altos, I was simply forwarding an invitation from a friend who was hosting an event at a private residence.”
Another posting in question came from the president of the Los Altos Individualized Education PTA (IEPTA), a special-education PTA in the school district. Posting through the group’s official Yahoo Group, IEPTA president Isabel Damian included text from the parent group LASD Voices’ endorsement letter for the school district board, the Los Altos City Council and the local seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Education. Damian had the post removed from the Yahoo Group after she realized it wasn’t aligned with the IEPTA’s mission.
“The IEPTA posted a forwarded message with no commentary or signature,” Damian said. “After realizing there could be a problem with that, we took the posting down. We are moving forward with how we can best support children with special needs within the Los Altos School District.”
Last week, Egan Junior High PTA Co-President Kim Albright posted a message in an Egan Community Yahoo Group stating that the Huttlinger Alliance, a parent group that has made candidate endorsements, was looking for parents to distribute fliers about its endorsements. Albright included a disclaimer in her post. Albright used her personal email address and did not sign the post as PTA Co-President.
“Full disclosure, this is NOT a PTA-sponsored event but a community interest opportunity,” the disclaimer stated.
In addition to the emails, parents have hosted candidate meet-and-greet events on local school campuses. The events did not include all the candidates in the local races – only Steve Taglio and Pablo Luther from the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees race and Jerry Sorensen from the Los Altos City Council race.
District Superintendent Jeff Baier said these are not district-sponsored events and pointed out that anyone can use district facilities – including those hosting political events. The district charges a fee for use of the schools’ multipurpose rooms.
“Our schools are community resources and we are open to their being used by the community whenever it doesn’t interfere with our school function,” he said.
Brooke Schiller, Los Altos Educational Foundation co-president, hosted a coffee for Sorensen at Springer. She said she paid for the space and completed a district facilities-use agreement, as required by the district.
“I was asked by only one candidate to host a coffee, and since I supported him, I said yes,” Schiller said. “Any communication from me about this event specifically stated that I was writing as a Los Altos resident, parent and/or neighbor. Los Altos Educational Foundation was never mentioned.”
Local parent Laura Orella planned a Los Altos School District board race meet-and-greet event at Loyola School – inviting all the candidates – but said she moved it to Rancho Shopping Center.
“I was trying to be all-inclusive,” she said. “But I didn’t want Loyola being perceived as favoring one candidate over another.”
Orella attributed the heightened interest in the election to the dispute over facilities and space between the school district and Bullis Charter School, which has left many families uncertain about the future of their children’s schools.
“People are very tuned in and concerned (about) whether they are going to have to fight to keep their home schools open,” she said.
1"Just skip to last line..."
at Wednesday, 24 October 2012 10:01
People here in Los Altos are fighting to keep their schools open. If you want to know why we are in that ridiculous state, look no further than the Board of Directors of Bullis Charter School.
Bullis Charter School should agree to curtail its enrollment to siblings only until we build a new campus. This will hurt nobody, will be the best for both BCS and LASD children, and will end this crisis.
at Wednesday, 24 October 2012 10:24
This article includes much misinformation. The most blatant is that local parent Orella invited everyone to a meet-and-greet at Loyola. Only TWO candidates were invited to begin with (I've seen the email), and when one of the other candidates cried FOUL, she hastily invited the others as well.
Our schools are COMMUNITY resources and the administration of LASD knew well that these types of events are inappropriate. I wish the Town Crier would do better due diligence and really point out how many violations that LASD and their parent community have committed during this campaign.
The misinformation being spread is horrendous. I had someone at my door this weekend, that told me lie after lie about BCS. I believe this parent truly believed what she told me... it just all happened to be false information spread by the CTA sponsored Huttlinger Alliance.
3"Fact checker too"
at Wednesday, 24 October 2012 13:14
The event at Springer was particularly inappropriate as a) it was done during school hours and b) the question of "renting" the room was only brought up AFTER the gathering when it was brought to the attention of the LASD staff. To LASD's credit, they follow up. However, until that happened, a political event was being held, rent free, at a local school during school hours. Apparently the principal gave permission for Brooke Schiller (a former PTA President and current co-chair of the LAEF) to use the MPR room at Springer as an extension of her living room. Any wonder that we can't solve the facilities issue? Parent seem to think that they own the schools rather than they are community assets to be shared equitably by ALL public school students. Until that mentality changes, we will remain a divided community.
at Wednesday, 24 October 2012 13:15
Fact Checker, it should be noted, has an inverted concept of truth.
The Huttlinger Alliance does not, of course, have anything whatsoever to do with the California Teachers Association and is not sponsored by it. It is sponsored by parents here in our area. This is well known, and undoubtedly Fact Checker knows this as well.
As such, you can imagine what he/she considers "lies". He/she won't tell us, of course, because that would be just as embarrassing as the lie we see emitted here.
If I accuse somebody of lying, I tell them what I think the lie is. It's what any community member would do. It's part of having a rational conversation.
Accusing somebody of "lies" and then keeping what those lies are a secret isn't communication, it's smearing.
Most BCS supporters, sadly, are not interested in rational conversation.
5"Who it hurts"
at Wednesday, 24 October 2012 13:14
JJS is just plain wrong... it hurts all the children and families that want to get into BCS.
No one is forced to go to BCS. This community is CHOOSING to send their children to what is a great school.
You don't ever get elementary school back, so there is a whole group of children that would be hurt badly.
at Wednesday, 24 October 2012 15:11
The sad reality is that LASD has mobilized an entire machine to wage full on war against ed reform and school choice. That machine has many moving parts:
An incestuous board of trustees that self selects.
Rabid parents that ignore the laws in the name of protecting assets that are not theirs to start with.
PTA, IEPTA, a Foundation and now a political rookie club that all blur the line on fair political practices.
Viral and door to door campaigns that spread their gospel by their evangelized parents.
Hopeless legal efforts to stymie the Charter School that are merely eating up dollars better spent in the classroom.
All this to prevent having to redistrict? Sick!
There is so much blame to go around, who knows where to start?
at Wednesday, 24 October 2012 15:12
And by "hurt badly" Christy means attending either a private school (which many BCS parents could easily afford*) or one of our top-ranked local public schools, some of which are so innovative that they've been featured on 60 Minutes.
Mind you, high-need special education students won't be hurt, since they aren't welcome at BCS in any case.
The only people who will be truly hurt is the BCS board who have a political agenda that has nothing to do with children or education.
8"Resident of Los Altos"
at Wednesday, 24 October 2012 16:24
Traci, Thank you for updating your online article making it clear that I did NOT sign my email as the Egan PTA President. In addition the email list is a small subset of parents who requested to be on the Egan Community group and is not derived from any PTA list. In fact, there is no requirement to be a PTA member to be on the list. I was not walking a fine line, I was within my rights as a resident/parent/citizen to send an email to inform parents of an opportunity to volunteer. Any other member in this group can do the same for any candidate they endorse.
9"organizer of last week's"
at Wednesday, 24 October 2012 16:26
When fact checker decides to say her real name and show her face to me, it better be with an apology. I'm glad you saw the email, because that meant that you had my email, and could have emailed me or called me for clarification instead of hiding behind the computer. And how's this for a lie. The candidate did not cry FOUL. The candidate greeted me with an apology for her husband's outlandish behavior for last week's accusations at the meet and greet. If you were there, you would have heard.
10"Sad lies is more like it"
at Wednesday, 24 October 2012 17:28
"sad reality" --
1. You have it backwards. The LASD board created a draft of a very BCS-favorable agreement last May. We, the community, rejected it. The LASD board is democratically elected and operates at our behest.
2. The only board here who "self-selects" is the BCS board. People know what democracy is--nice try.
3. Quite the contrary, I and many others have given ourselves a very thorough education in charter laws and prop 39. The District is in full compliance.
4. I'll ignore the mindless insults.
5. This is democracy. Same as what BCS candidates are doing, and all candidates do.
6. There have been NO legal efforts to stymie the charter, unless you consider not letting them close one of our schools, to "stymie" them.
The only place to lay blame is the BCS board. They thumb their nose at our community and even their own parents in the name of their global political objectives.
at Thursday, 25 October 2012 18:39
To clarify, I did not cry "foul" as I was unaware of the event until shortly before I received the invite.
I DID enjoy meeting Laura, though upon meeting I reiterated the apology my husband had made to her, multiple times. I did acknowledge that he was protective on my behalf in light of an e-mail smear campaign against me.
I again thank Laura for hosting the event and Kim Albright for attending and for asking me to expand upon my experiences since we were together at Santa Rita, working for the benefit of the ELL students in the district in 2007. At that time both of our neighborhoods were moved.
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