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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Newspapers neglect critical information about PDC issues

[Edited Oct. 27 to add a comment about the difference between union support for Brower and individual support for Fullmer.]

By Laurie H. Rogers

On Oct. 24, a Spokesman-Review reporter called me to talk about education. Over five years of education advocacy, this was the second phone call I've received from a SR reporter.

The first call came Oct. 13, after I submitted a Letter to the Editor about the formal complaint I filed Sept. 28 with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC). This PDC complaint concerns Spokane Public Schools and school board candidate Deana Brower. Reporter Jody Lawrence-Turner called me to ask for a copy of the complaint.

On Monday, Lawrence-Turner called again as I was driving home with my daughter and a student I’m tutoring. Before I talked with Lawrence-Turner, I confirmed that we were having a conversation that was NOT on the record. Having confirmed that, I talked with her about various education-related topics.

This is the article that showed up in the paper today (Oct. 25):

If Lawrence-Turner wonders why I asked if our conversation was off the record, all she needs to do is look at her articles. Gee, do you think The Spokesman-Review and Lawrence-Turner want Brower to win the school board election? I offered my entire blog to Lawrence-Turner, the information in it, and the links to district emails – and this is what she wrote. It looks to me like yet another slanted article with unsupported insinuations regarding school board candidate Sally Fullmer and a local community member, and with an accompanying free pass for opponent Brower.

As a ("self-described") education advocate, I find the newspaper's public-relations pieces for Brower and the school district to be annoying and unhelpful. As a former newspaper journalist, I’m embarrassed for the state of print journalism. As an American citizen, however, I find it disturbing. Three local elections are at stake. Where our elections go, so goes a free America. This is a point I made repeatedly to Lawrence-Turner.

The SR articles lack respectable coverage of what Brower and Fullmer stand for. They lack a solid explanation of RCW 42.17.130, of how it applies to the school district, and of what it means to the people that the district appears to have violated that law in more than one way. They lack any mention of the district’s activities with respect to the 2009 bond and levy “campaign.” They fail to delve into reports to the PDC regarding union and district support for three local candidates. They fail to clearly explain possible consequences to those races because of district activities.

Before Lawrence-Turner's deadline, I gave her one quotation by email, which she declined to use: "Free and fair elections are the basis of a free America, and I'll stand up for that principle any and every day."

All that Lawrence-Turner and self-described newspaper The Spokesman-Review appear inclined to talk about with respect to board candidate Sally Fullmer are 1) Sally’s involvement with the Jefferson Elementary School move and 2) Sally's campaign donations from Duane Alton. Brower was involved in the Jefferson issue, too, seeming in district emails to stand on the same side as the school district. They decline to add to Brower's union support the vast practical and financial assistance she has received from union activities on her behalf since before the campaign began, including campaign training, a ready email network, sign waving activities, and these two $1,000 per page advertisements in the KIDS Newspaper.

The SR and Lawrence-Turner continually repeat Brower’s talking point about receiving just $800 from the union, as if that’s all there has been. Meanwhile, they insinuate without proof of any kind that Fullmer and Alton share philosophy on bonds and levies. Fullmer addressed her contributions from Alton at the Oct. 17 "Face Off at Ferris":
“I will be an independent voice, not beholden to anyone. If it weren’t for individual citizens helping me get my message out, I wouldn’t have a voice, because the traditional methods that the school uses to contract people using school emails, to contact teachers using school resources, are not available to me. I was not invited to come into the schools to meet with teachers as Deana was. Also, these people have chosen to donate to my campaign because they believe in my message, and they want to help me get it out, and have not asked for anything in return. Although I do know that they are really big on transparency, as I am, and I think the majority of people want to know where the money is going, and what’s happening with that in the school district.”[Added Oct. 27] A big difference between the union's support for Brower and Alton's support for Fullmer is that board directors won't be voting on bargaining agreements with Alton. And board directors don't have to worry about Alton using public resources to campaign for elective candidates or ballot propositions. And Alton didn't violate the Collective Bargaining Agreement by sending out campaign ads to schoolchildren -- in contravention of RCW 42.17.130.

Regardless of what happens now -- Brower and two other local candidates will benefit from the district’s acknowledged and seemingly unlawful distribution of two campaign advertisements in issues of the KIDS Newspaper. The district distributed these publications to elementary schools and to elementary school children across the city. It had them available for community members in school offices and in the downtown district office. Only after a community member and I queried the district, did the district acknowledge that its activity with respect to the KIDS Newspaper was in contravention of RCW 42.17.130. The district's acknowledgement of wrongdoing was confirmed in emails to me and that community member.

Lawrence-Turner and the SR knew about the district's distribution of KIDS, but wrote instead that the union (which is not a public agency) broke the law. They didn't write that this activity also appears to violate the Collective Bargaining Agreement (see page 9).

The Oct. 25 SR article finally mentions the PDC complaint I filed, but spent about half of its space talking about the size of contributions to Sally Fullmer. What impression of the issues do you suppose the paper and district want you to have? Imagine for a moment how Lawrence-Turner and the SR might have reported on these issues had Sally Fullmer received the SR's endorsement instead of Brower.

Gretchen McDevitt, former District 81 teacher/counselor, and her husband Jim McDevitt, wrote today about the district's distribution of the KIDS Newspaper in a joint email to colleagues: "Such campaigning is clearly in violation of State law, which the District now acknowledges. Those of us that worked in the District for years and are retired, were truly stunned that this type of activity is occurring."

I have loved newspapers since I was a girl. My undergraduate degree emphasizes print journalism, and I worked for newspapers as a reporter, editor and columnist. I’m sad to see their general decline, but they have brought it on themselves. No newspaper can cover everything, and there will always be complaints. But our print media have gotten so far away from the mission of providing unbiased information, they’re often painful to read. Any time We, the People face Power-with-No-Accountability, it seems we wind up with self-interest trumping the public interest. That isn’t a political problem; it’s the nature of people. It’s why absolute transparency and accountability are critical to maintaining the people’s interest.

The SR endorsed Deana Brower. Its education coverage typically is friendly to her and to the district. On Oct. 13, the SR and Lawrence-Turner received my Letter to the Editor regarding my PDC complaint -- nearly a week before ballots were mailed. And this is their pitiful response, published nearly a week after the ballots were mailed, and without my Letter.

The Inlander also received information on the PDC complaint Sept. 29, and my letter on Oct. 13. To the best of my knowledge, it, too, has declined to mention these issues. Below, for your general fund of knowledge, is a copy of my Oct. 13 letter.

I guess all of this is job security for me. Unfortunately, I don’t get paid to do this job, and it’s a job I’d rather weren’t necessary. I’d like to go back to the life I used to have. But somebody’s got to do it. As an education advocate in Spokane, I will continue to advocate for the children, academics, accountability, transparency, and – now – for the law.

Please stay tuned. There is more to say about the issues surrounding the PDC complaint and how this district runs itself. Meanwhile, as you fill out your ballot, please reject the way business is done in Spokane. This year, please elect people who are there for YOU, the parent, teacher, taxpayer and voter. Please elect Sally Fullmer as the next school board director. Stand up for academics, accountability, transparency, the law, our community and our children.


Laurie Rogers’s Oct. 13 Letter to the Editor, sent Oct. 13 to the SR and The Inlander:

Election coverage fails to mention that a Public Disclosure Commission complaint was filed Sept. 28 regarding Spokane Public Schools administrators, superintendent, board directors and school board candidate Deana Brower.

The PDC complaint concerns RCW 42.17.130, which prohibits the use of public agencies, facilities, or resources to campaign, directly or indirectly, for a candidate for elective office (such as a board candidate) or promote a ballot proposition (such as bonds and levies).

Public records from District 81 indicate that Brower was invited into schools to speak to employees about her candidacy, and that her appearances were promoted using district emails.

Public records appear to indicate that district employees used district resources to promote the 2009 bond and levy, setting a minimum number of presentations for principals, sending home pamphlets with students, asking staff to mention the initiatives before drama and concert performances, asking teachers to wave signs and hand out leaflets, asking parents to write letters to the editor, and making presentations to organizations and media throughout the city.

Public records indicate that the superintendent and administrators planned to meet with Brower, co-chair of the bond/levy advocacy group Citizens for Spokane Schools, to talk about strategy for an upcoming levy.


Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:

Rogers, L. (October 2011). "Newspapers neglect critical information about PDC issues." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:  

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