Although the election may have ended a month ago, at least one Colorado school district superintendent hasn’t stopped campaigning.
Littleton Public Schools (LPS) Superintendent Brian Ewert sent out a newsletter Wednesday that drew ire from several residents in the district.
The tri-fold, full-color, glossy mailer from the school district started off with a letter from Ewert that seemed innocent at first.
“Little Public Schools is a special place where students excel, families thrive, and the community has a long tradition of supporting its schools,” the letter read.
However, it immediately turns to talk of inadequate statewide tax structure and a need for more money. But that’s not what crossed the line for residents like Lori Horn, who received the mailer despite not having students in the district.
“This is a new superintendent,” Horn said. “It was a different kind of letter for families to receive. I was surprised to get it since I don’t currently have kids in public schools here. They paid some money for it. It looked like a fluff piece about nice things going on in the schools, but one-third of it was his letter.”
It appears the piece was mailed to most of the residents inside the LPS boundaries, as other residents who notified Complete Colorado they received the mailer were over 80 years old and had not had children in the district in more than 30 years.
Ewert said the recession in 2008 was devastating to Colorado schools then noted that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), combined with Amendment 23 and the Gallagher Amendment “make it impossible for the state’s budget to recover,” he said.
LPS director of communication Diane Leiker said the mailer went out with the full support of the school board.
“The Littleton Public Schools Board of Education is well aware of superintendent Ewert’s advocacy, and is encouraging advocacy in as many ways as possible around adequate funding for public schools in Colorado,” Leiker said. “Within the next eight weeks, superintendents and school boards across the state will be calling their communities to action around these issues.”
Ewert goes on to explain how the district has lost $87.5 million in funding since 2009 because of cuts made to education funding in the state legislature through what has been termed the “negative factor.”
He says LPS has nearly capped out on local mill levy dollars it can raise and makes the situation sound dire.
“School budgets will be cut deeper,” he said in the letter. “We in LPS will be powerless to stop it.”
Ewert’s solution was for residents to contact state house and senate representatives and ask them to make several legislative changes that increase education funding and moving the hotly contested Hospital Provider Fee out of the general fund, a move to free up hundreds of millions of dollars under TABOR despite the fact that many view the “fee” as a tax.
“Doing so would slow TABOR refund triggers and allow general fund dollars to be returned to K-12 education, transportation, health and human services and higher (education),” Ewert said.
He then lists the phone numbers and email addresses to state senators and representatives in the LPS area.
Horn said at a time when people in Littleton are concerned with the safety of their schools (25 percent report they don’t feel safe in the same mailer) she believes Ewert could be focusing more on that than campaigning.
Although Ewert did not expressly break laws, he toes the line by using district money in an attempt to influence voters, encouraging them to push for changes in state legislation.
“He is treading a thin line,” Horn said. “He is going to end up costing tax payers a ton of money in a lawsuit.”
He definitely crossed moral and ethical lines, according to Horn.
“The Littleton school board should not have hired someone who wanted to be a political figure or politicize,” Horn said. “I think it’s campaigning. It is very wrong for someone in his position to take a stand on that kind of an issue or to put information in a letter like that that’s not a full story.”
Leiker doesn’t agree.
“The roles, responsibilities and job descriptions of superintendents require they use a portion of their time as advocates for public education, specifically, the students being underserved due to inadequate funding,” she said. “Mr. Ewert’s letter to the community is not political in nature. Rather, it provides information to LPS parents, staff, and taxpayers about the reality of the constitutional entanglement of Gallagher, TABOR, and Amendment 23 and its impact in Littleton Public Schools.”