Judge rules school district violated campaign act with report

Contract with former education secretary deemed not a violation

By Jane Reuter
Posted

A Denver judge ruled the Douglas County School District violated the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act when it sent a district-financed report to 85,000 parents and community members less than two months before the high-stakes school board election.

The report, titled the "The Most Interesting School District in America?", constituted a contribution to the reform-slate candidates, the judge ruled, because many of those who received it were potential voters in the November school board election.

DCSD did not violate the act in contracting with former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, or in three other actions a plaintiff tried to show also constituted violations.

Former school board candidate Julie Keim, who filed the complaint against the school district, said she is happy with the judge's ruling. Keim was among a slate of four candidates seeking to change the district's direction who all lost to pro-reform candidates in November.

"We were really looking for the finding on that report, because that was the direct connection of using taxpayer resources to finance a political agenda," she said.

Administrative Law Judge Hollyce Farrell issued her decision in a 15-page report Dec. 26.

She ruled DCSD did not violate the act in its contract with Bennett, who also wrote a paper and delivered a speech in Douglas County before the election - both of which were favorable to the district and its education-reform policies. DCSD also did not violate the act through a board member's Facebook posting about an alleged audit, when two charter schools publicized reform-candidate-only forums, or when it allegedly stopped some volunteers from delivering election-related fliers.

Keim said her goal is to prevent the school district from engaging in similar activity in the future. She did not seek financial compensation for her court costs, and did not request further punitive action against DCSD. Farrell did not levy a fine against the school district in her ruling.

"I'm just happy to try to hold them accountable for doing something wrong," Keim said.

School board President Kevin Larsen declined to comment because he had not read the ruling as of the evening of Dec. 26.

Keim filed her complaint in mid-October after, she said, several incidents aroused her suspicion that the district was attempting to influence the election outcome.

The judge's decision followed two days of testimony heard in a downtown Denver courtroom Dec. 2 and 10.