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Here are the questions and the responses from Szakacs in their entirety as they appeared in a letter Szakacs sent to the DA’s office that I obtained.
April 30, 2007
Via Telefax & U.S. Mail
Dr. William Szakacs
Franklin Public Schools
8255 West Forest Hill Avenue
Franklin, Wisconsin 53132
Re: DA Case No. 2007EL025-C
Dear Mr. Szakacs:
I am an Assistant District Attorney assigned to the Public Integrity Unit of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office. This office has received a complaint alleging that School District resources were used to promote a vote in favor of two public referenda on April 3, 2007 concerning school finance. My inquiry is a civil, not a criminal, inquiry and its focus is the use of public resources to promote a YES vote on one or both of the referenda. I am at the fact-gathering stage of this inquiry. In this connection, I would respectfully request your response to the following questions and requests for information and documentation.
Thank you for your anticipated cooperation.
If you have questions concerning this correspondence, you may contact me at (414) 278-2178.
Very truly yours,
Bruce J. Landgraf
Assistant District Attorney
May 29, 2007
Dear Mr. Landgraf:
In responding to your inquiry regarding the Vote Yes Flyer, High School Assembly, and Other District Publications, please find each of your questions below with the requested information to follow.
A. VOTE YES Flyer
1. Please refer to the attachment labeled as Exhibit A. Is this an accurate reproduction of the School District’s policy on the distribution of printed materials through the schools?
- Exhibit A is the Administrative Rule regarding Distribution of Printed material to Pupils.
- A copy of the Board Policy for Printed Material Distributed to the Pupils (#1360) is enclosed.
2. Please refer to the attachment labeled as Exhibit B. When, if ever, did you first see this flyer (hereinafter “the flyer”)?
- I first saw the flyer when the copies were delivered to the district office about a week or week and a half prior to the April 3rd vote date.
- I did not see the flyer prior to copies being printed.
3. Who showed the flyer to you and under what circumstances did you see the flyer?
- It is my assumption that the flyers were dropped off at the district office by either Todd Ahrens (of the Franklin Citizens for Better Schools) or another representative of the citizen group. I was never consulted by any representatives of the Franklin Citizens for Better Schools.
- All flyers that are distributed to students must first be approved by the District Administrator (Superintendent), per Board policy. I approved the flyer for distribution at the elementary schools and middle school.
- I approved the flyer for distribution because I did not believe it violated the standard set forth in the Board Policy 1360, Administrative Rule.
4. Did you see the flyer before it was mass-produced by the group headed by Mr. Todd Ahrens, the Franklin Citizens for Better Schools?
5. Who would you identify as the person from the Franklin School District who has the most contact with Mr. Ahrens concerning either (a) the contents of the flyer, (b) the placement of the words at the foot of the page, i.e., “This was prepared by the Franklin Citizens for Better Schools…,” or (c) the distribution of the flyer through the Franklin Public Schools?
- All flyers that are distributed to students must first be approved by the District Administrator (Superintendent), per Board policy.
- The District was not provided with a copy of the vote yes flyer prior to copies being made and delivered to the district office.
- Our legal counsel advised that the disclaimer statement, “This was prepared by Franklin Citizens for Better Schools and is not affiliated with the Franklin School District” be included on the flyers. The disclaimer statement was given to Todd Aherns from the Franklin Citizens for Better Schools committee. The disclaimer was not stated on the flyer in the form it was recommended.
- The district’s practice in distributing flyers is that all copies be delivered to the Education and Community Center (district office). The Superintendent’s Office coordinates the distribution to schools. Flyers are always delivered to the schools with other inter-district mail on a regularly scheduled district mail delivery.
- No (“No Vote”) flyers were ever received by the district. If the district had received a request to distribute “No” flyers, the request would have been approved with the use of the same disclaimer statement that was provided by legal counsel for the Franklin Citizens for Better Schools committee.
6. Was the flyer, or one substantially like it, distributed to the Franklin School District students for those students to take home to their parents?
- Flyers were included in take home folders at the elementary schools, which is how all materials that meet the standards stated in Board Policy 1360 are distributed.
- Flyers were available to be picked up by students at the Middle School.
- Staff members at the Middle School were directed to have flyers available for student pick up. They were instructed not to discuss or distribute the flyer. (Enclosed is a copy of the instructions from the Middle School Principal to staff.)
7. Please identify the person who received the flyers on behalf of the School District in anticipation of distribution to the students.
- The flyers were dropped off at the Education and Community Center. The Superintendent’s Office coordinates the distribution of flyers to schools.
8. Please identify the schools where the flyers were distributed to the students.
- Flyers were included in the take home folders at Ben Franklin Elementary School, Southwood Glen Elementary School, Country Dale Elementary School, Robinwood Elementary School, and Pleasant View Elementary School.
- Flyers were available for students to pick up as they left class at Forest Park Middle School. Teachers at the Middle School were directed to have the flyers available for pick up. They were instructed not to discuss or distribute the flyer. (Enclosed is a copy of the instructions from the Middle School Principal to staff.)
9. Please identify the means by which the flyers were distributed from the central office of the school district to the schools you identified above.
- Flyers were delivered to the schools with other inter-district mail on a regularly scheduled district mail delivery.
10. For each of the schools identified as a point of distribution, who was the school district employee responsible for the distribution of the flyers at that particular school?
- Secretaries received the fliers and distributed to teachers. Teachers and/or educational assistants at the elementary schools put the flyers in take home folders. Teachers at the Middle School were directed by the Middle School Principal to set the flyers near the door to be available for pick up as students left class. They were instructed not to discuss or distribute the flyer. (Enclosed is a copy of the instructions from the Middle School Principal to staff.)
11. What was the means of distribution of the flyers at the individual schools?
- Flyers were included in take home folders Flyers were included in the take home folders at Ben Franklin Elementary School, Southwood Glen Elementary School, Country Dale Elementary School, Robinwood Elementary School, and Pleasant View Elementary School.
- Flyers were available for students to pick up as they left class at Forest Park Middle School. Teachers at the Middle School were directed to have the flyers available for pick up. They were instructed not to discuss or distribute the flyer. Had the district received any “Vote No” material, that material would have been subject to the same procedures.
12. How many flyers were distributed in all to students?
- Approximately 2800 flyers were distributed to students through take-home folders at the elementary schools and available for students to pick up at Forest Park Middle School.
13. In how many classrooms were the flyers distributed?
- The flyers were made available to students through take-home folders at the elementary schools and available for students to pick up at Forest Park Middle School. (Teachers at the Middle School were directed to have the flyers available for pick up. They were instructed not to discuss or distribute the flyer.) No “distribution” should have been performed in classrooms by any district employee.
14. I have read e-mails attributed to you wherein you wrote to parents that “this particular flyer was approved by our legal counsel.” Is this true?
- No. The Communications Coordinator was advised by legal counsel on the addition of the disclaimer statement for the flyer. Legal counsel did not review the flyer prior to distribution, nor was he asked to review its content.
15. If true, how much did you pay School District attorneys for review and approval of the “VOTE YES” flyer to be distributed to the students?
(THIS QUESTION WAS OMITTED ON SZAKACS’ RESPONSE)
16. Were flyers distributed to the students that set forth a “VOTE NO” position as respects the April 3 referenda?
- No, the district did not receive any “Vote No” flyers.
- Flyers from a “No” group would also have been approved for distribution with the disclaimer provided by a legal counsel.
B. High School Assembly
I am advised that an assembly was held at the high school during which time students were given a presentation on issues relating to the referenda. With respect to that assembly:
1.Who determined to hold an assembly on issues relating to the April 3 referenda?
- Each year, the High School administration discusses end of the year and graduation requirements with the graduating seniors. This year, the end of the year discussion was combined with a presentation about the April 3rd referendum. The primary purpose of referendum portion of the assembly, like all informational presentations, was to inform students about facts of the referendum.
2.Who were the persons responsible for organizing the assembly?
- The High School administration organized the assembly.
3.Who were the presenters at this assembly as relates to the “VOTE YES” position?
- The assembly was informational and there were no presenters from the vote yes position.
4.Who were the presenters at this assembly as relates to the “VOTE NO” position?
- The assembly was informational and there were no presenters from the vote no position.
5. Kindly identify all citizens or groups solicited to present a “VOTE YES” position?
- The assembly was informational and we did not solicit any citizens or groups to present a vote yes position.
6. Kindly identify all citizens or groups solicited to present a “VOTE NO” position?
- The assembly was informational and we did not solicit any citizens or groups to present a vote no position.
7. Did the assembly presenter(s) utilize a PowerPoint presentation similar to that which the district published on its web site? (As requested below, please provide me with a copy of the presentation materials.)
- A PowerPoint presentation was not utilized for the assembly.
- Students viewed an informational video, which also aired on cable channel 96 for about three weeks leading up to the April 3rd referendum vote.
8. Did the presentation to the students include a slide like this one I saw on the Internet consisting of the words, “EVERYONE WILL BENEFIT”?
- A PowerPoint presentation was not utilized for the assembly. Students viewed the informational video that also aired on cable channel 96 for about three weeks leading up to the April 3rd referendum vote.
9. What was the date and time of the assembly?
- March 30, 2007.
- 7:45-8:30 a.m.
10. How long did the assembly last?
- Approximately 45 minutes.
11. I am informed the assembly was for seniors only. Is this true? If not true, please advise as to the dates and times of the other assemblies for other classes.
- The assembly on March 30, 2007 was for seniors only.
- This was the only senior assembly held.
12. How many students are in the 2007 Senior Class at the high school and, of these, how many were 18 years or older as of April 3, 2007.
- The total number of seniors is 314. On April 3, 2007, 182 of the seniors were 18 years old.
C. Other Publications
1.Please refer to the attachment labeled as Exhibit C. Is this an accurate reproduction of a School District publication concerning the two April 3 referenda?
2. Please note the language from Exhibit C, “The District asks that if you approve the question on building the facility, that you also approve the additional operating funds.” Is that language not reasonably read as advocacy for a YES vote on one of the two referenda?
- The statement does not ask or tell voters how to vote. It simply states that IF they approve of the referendum project by voting yes for the first question, the second question also needs to have a yes vote for any part of the project to move forward.
- It was never intended to urge citizens to vote yes on the referendum issue, as clarified by the use of the word “if” in the language which you have cited. Throughout this process the District, as advised, scrupulously avoided advocacy of the “yes” position on the referendum, presenting only the facts surrounding the issue. The District believes that it made every effort to adhere to this procedure.
3. Please provide me with copies of all of the School District publications, presentations and documents which were funded by the School District and which concerned the two April 3 referenda. In this regard, I would prefer electronic copy in PDF format. As to any PowerPoint presentations, I will happily accept the PPT format.
- Please see enclosures.
4. Please describe how each publication was used. I would ask that you identify what means were used to publish each of the publications. I would also ask that you specifically identify the publications that were utilized at the high school assembly for the seniors.
- News releases were submitted to the Franklin NOW newspaper, posted on the FranklinNOW on-line site (www.franklinnow.com), and posted on the district website. Some news releases were also distributed at or following presentations to citizen or community groups. Copies were made using district copy machines.
- New flashes were emailed to parents signed up to receive electronic updates from one or more of the district schools. Paper copies of news flashes were sent home intake-home folders at all elementary schools. News flashes were posted on the district website. Copies were made using district copy machines.
- Staff updates were emailed as attachments to all Franklin Public School District staff. (Staff updates were identical to the news flashes.)
- A referendum PowerPoint was used at all staff and most community presentations and was posted on the district website. Please note: the PowerPoint presentation was not used at the high school seniors’ assembly.
- The referendum video was produced by High School staff and students. The District had additional DVD copies made by a local business. The video aired on cable channel 96 and the district website for the last approximately 3 weeks leading up to the April 3rd vote. DVD copies were also available to be picked up at all district schools, the district office, at some presentations, and at the community library. The video was used for the high school seniors’ assembly.
- A referendum newsletter was mailed to all Franklin Public School families and residents of the Franklin Public School District. The writing, design, and layout for the newsletter was completed in the district. The Franklin House of Correction printed the newsletter, put labels on, and delivered to the post office.
- Informational display boards were set up at all district schools, the district office, and in the community. Copies of all materials included on the informational display boards are enclosed. Informational display boards were assembled at the district office. The boards provide information only and were not the source of any advocacy. (An assembled informational display board is not included with this request, but could be furnished upon request.)
- The parent note was sent as a news flash to all middle and high school parents signed up to receive electronic updates from the school. Paper copies of the note were sent home in take-home folders at the elementary schools.
- The citizen note was posted on the district website, available for pick up at the district office, and distributed at or following presentations to citizen or community groups. Copies of the citizen note were available at the high school assembly for students to read and/or take with them.
- Two informational handouts, titled informational handout and Voter Information handout were available for pick up with all display boards. These were also posted on the district website. (The informational handout was modified slightly throughout the informational campaign to address a variety of parent and citizen meetings or groups. The modification included a date and time for upcoming meetings or presentations.) The Voter Information Handout was available at the high school assembly for students to read and/or take with them.
- A letter was mailed to members of the District’s Key Communicators organization who were unable to attend the presentation scheduled for Key Communicators. Enclosed with the letter were copies of the PowerPoint presentation, and two informational handouts.
- Referendum Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document was posted on the district website, available for pick up at the district office, and distributed at or following presentations to citizen or community groups.
- A one-page informational handout was created to specifically address the Community Education and Recreation Program. This document was printed in the district, posted on the district website, and available to be picked up at or following presentations to citizen or community groups.
- None of the material produced by the school district presented a vote yes advocacy. Instead, materials were informational in nature and were intended to provide residents of the district with sufficient background incorporation so citizens could make a decision based upon fact, not speculation.
Dr. Bill Szakacs
Franklin Public Schools
These responses are troubling for many reasons. I’ll have more to say later but I’m anxious to hear your reaction.