State fines Cupertino Union School District

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Zoe Morgan/Town Crier
Cupertino Union School District was fined $2,500 for violating a state ethics law. The violations date back to 2016 and 2017 when the district sent mass mailings out featuring members of the school board, who are elected officials. That violates the state's Political Reform Act.

The Cupertino Union School District faces a $2,500 fine for sending mass mailings featuring school board members, which violates the state’s Political Reform Act.

The Fair Political Practices Commission levied the fine earlier this month as part of a settlement with the school district. The district includes Montclaire Elementary School in Los Altos.

The violations date back to 2016 and 2017, when the district sent three mass mailings to residents featuring members of the school board, who are all elected officials.

The Political Reform Act forbids mass mailings paid for with public money that feature elected officials. The Fair Political Practices Commission is tasked with enforcing the act, which voters passed as a ballot measure in 1974 in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

The act allows for a maximum penalty of $5,000. However, the commission settled on $2,500 after considering the specific facts of this case, as well as the precedent set in similar cases.

“Evidence shows a pattern of violations, as the CUSD distributed the newsletters in 2016 and the last mass mailing in 2017,” the stipulation reads. “However, no evidence indicated an intent to deceive the public, the violation appears to be inadvertent, and the CUSD does not have prior record of violating the Act.”

School district spokesperson Leslie Mains said the district was trying to keep the community updated on school district happenings and didn’t realize at the time it was violating state law.

“The intent was never to deceive the public,” Mains said.

Mains added that district staff oversaw the mailers, and the content wasn’t at the request of any board members.

The school district has also seen substantial turnover since the violations occurred. Only one board member, Phyllis Vogel, remains on the five-person board.

The district also has a new superintendent, Craig Baker, who began in 2017 after the board ousted former superintendent Wendy Gudalewicz.

According to Mains, Gudalewicz’s departure was unrelated to the mailers.

In June and October 2016, the district sent out newsletters that featured members of the board and included a message from board president Josephine Lucey. The June issue also included “self-referential statements” about the board’s accomplishments and had a picture of the board members.

Two school board seats were up for a vote in the November 2016 election.

The final mailer in question was sent in May 2017 and provided information about the Citizens’ Parcel Tax Oversight Committee. Photos of four board members were included.

The Political Reform Act prohibits mailers featuring elected officials if more than 200 copies are sent in a calendar month, costing more than $50 of public money. Cupertino’s mailers exceeded both limits.

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