POST FALLS - The Kootenai County Reagan Republicans are raising red flags over the Post Falls teachers union plan to support school board candidates for the May 21 election, but the union denies any wrongdoing and the school district and county clerk didn't find any.
The Republican group obtained an April 18 email the Post Falls Education Association sent to its membership, outlining an action plan to support candidates and containing form letters to the editor.
Jeff Ward, treasurer of the Republican group, said he believes the union would be crossing the line of using taxpayer-funded resources for campaign purposes if it acts on its candidate support plan - if it hasn't already.
In response to the concerns, teacher Michelle Faucher-Sharples said the union hasn't done anything wrong.
"No school resources were used," she wrote in an email.
Ward questions the instructions of Faucher-Sharples in the email to union members that states, "If you are in a school building, please make sure that staff members that are not on this email list are informed and encourage their help too please."
However, the next sentence says, "Not on contract time."
The Republican group is also concerned the union-generated material also contains plans to have a table with voter registration and absentee ballot information staffed by volunteers at kindergarten events in May.
"The goal appears to be an election tactic, not a public service," Ward said, adding that the tables are a numbered item in the union's action plan.
Posting general election information on school property is fine, but promoting candidates is not allowed.
Faucher-Sharples said the county, which conducts the election, is involved in registration/ballot tables, which is also noted in the plan. She said the tables are a public service.
"Voter registration and absentee ballot information are important for our community," she wrote. "This is to encourage voter registration in our non-partisan school board election."
The union's action plan states, "Our non-partisan elections are going to get more political every year."
However, Ward said that, even though party labels next to candidates are not printed on the ballots, school board elections are partisan.
"Most people who run are either Republican or Democrat," he said, adding that state law only designates judges' races as non-partisan.
Ward said the Republican group endorses school board candidates to inform voters of the candidates' affiliation.
Ward said he was led to believe the email sent by the union was to school district addresses, but Superintendent Jerry Keane said he had Faucher-Sharples show him the original email and confirmed it was sent to home addresses instead. Keane said a check of the district's computer system also revealed no emails from the union have been sent to school district accounts.
The email Ward received mostly listed names with the exception of a few non-school district addresses. He said he trusts Keane's checks on the email concern.
Ward declined to say from whom the email was obtained. He said the Republicans' concerns were expressed in the group's newsletter and emailed to only Keane, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and The Press.
The Republicans asked Keane to investigate their concern that school employees could have used public resources to develop door-knocking lists, but Keane said he never found any wrongdoing with that or the other complaints.
County Clerk Cliff Hayes, who reviewed the email and concerns, agreed.
"There's nothing that's concerning to me as clerk," he said.
Keane said the district has been and continues to be "very assertive" communicating to staff with regard to what they can and can't do related to elections.
"It has been clearly communicated that they can not use school equipment or time to engage in elections," he said.
Keane said he believes the union "clearly" knows what can and can't be done with elections, but reminders never hurt.
"As a result of this discussion, I have sent another email to all staff clarifying that staff members can not engage in election activities at school or use school equipment and resources for political purposes," he said.
Ward said the district office has acted promptly to the Republicans' election concerns this round and during previous elections.
Aside from concerns by the Republicans in recent years, Post Falls school board elections traditionally have avoided political controversies that have hit districts such as Coeur d'Alene.
In Coeur d'Alene, where six candidates are vying for three school trustee positions, the administration decided to get ahead of any potential problems.
A notice was sent April 11 with guidelines regarding school board elections.
"As in any other election cycle or with any issue that is of a political nature in our district, we remind employees, our parent associations and other constituents that we have a no politics in our school and school events philosophy," said Laura Rumpler, the district's communications director.
The notice was also sent to candidates and states that campaign literature about specific candidates cannot be distributed at schools, on school equipment and school employee time.
Those working in classrooms in all districts are encouraged to exercise their constitutional rights, but not in the classroom, on school grounds or by using school resources.
Using a district's logo for campaigning is also a no-no.
Use of the logo for non-district activities is prohibited without written approval from Rumpler's office, the notice states: "...however, no permission will be granted for political campaign literature."
Press staff writer Maureen Dolan contributed to this report.