CALDWELL -- A new television ad opposing education reform measures on the November ballot is being called into question, not for the content of the ad, but where the ad was filmed and one piece of video in particular.
Elementary school named in ad video
The latest "Vote No Props 1, 2, 3" ad against the three education reform propositions was noticeably filmed in a public school. It encourages voters to turn down the measures, which the group claims ignore teacher concerns. In one shot, there is a sign in the background which reads "Wilson Elementary School", a school in the Caldwell School District.
Now, there is a bit of a debate. Critics say politics and public schools shouldn't be mixed, and supporters say the buildings should be open to any reasonable public group.
The district's superintendent says he approved an Idaho Education Association request to film the ad before the school year began in August.
"I was provided assurance that the spot would be constructed in such a way that it wouldn't suggest any endorsement by the school district," Caldwell School District Superintendent Tim Rosandick said. He calls the school's name being associated with the ad 'regrettable'.
Rosandick, and the school's principal, Taylor Raney, said neither the elementary school nor the district are taking a position on the three props.
Critics say political ads have no place inside public schools
Senator Jim Rice (R-Caldwell) is a parent in the district and volunteers on the district policy committee, which oversees policies including those regulating facility use. He's previously shown support for Props 1, 2, and 3. He believes no political group, for or against, should have been filming an ad inside a public school.
"They shouldn't have done it," Rice said. "I think that's really inappropriate. Our schools really shouldn't be used for partisan ads. Especially...if this were an email that was used from a school email, everybody would be up in arms about it."
In fact, last year as this legislation moved through the statehouse, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna warned teachers not to use public school property, like district email systems, for political purposes.
Caldwell's superintendent says he can see some common threads to the current issue, but he says there was no violation of community standards or disruption to education in this instance.
"This spot was filmed outside the school day, not involving a captive audience of adults or kids. All those involved did so on a voluntary basis and on their own personal time," Rosandick said.
Rice's opponent in senate race weighs in
Leif Skyving is running against Rice for the District 10 senate seat. He is also a Caldwell School Board member. He says the district's policies were followed and believes there was no wrongdoing. He also criticized Rice for criticizing policy, when Rice is on the policy committee. He sent KTVB a statement via email:
“I agree with Superintendent Rosendick,” Skyving said. “This is a first amendment issue, an instance of public property being used for free speech. If the foes of the referendum would like the use of public school property for a similar event, as long as district policy is followed, as it was in the case of the proponents of the referendum, that should not be a problem either."
Department of Education offers perspective
Idaho State Department of Public Education Public Information Officer Melissa McGrath sent KTVB some background information on the issue of public schools and politics.
She pointed out the Code of Ethics for Idaho Professional Educators, which reads, in part: “A professional educator ensures just and equitable treatment for all members of the profession in the exercise of academic freedom, professional rights and responsibilities while following generally recognized professional principles. Unethical conduct includes but is not limited to: ... Using institutional privileges for the promotion of political candidates or for political activities, except for local, state or national education association elections.”
In the situation of the ad being filmed in a Caldwell School, this code may not apply if district policies for facilities are the same for all organizations.
"I can see why this might raise some questions, but ultimately it would be up to the Professional Standards Commission to decide if someone has or has not violated the Code of Ethics in this situation," McGrath said.
Caldwell district may reexamine building use policies
Rice and Rosandick both say this may spark a district discussion on facility policies.
"We haven't looked at that particular policy in a long time," Rice said. "I think we're probably going to end up reviewing that policy, just to see."
Rosandick says at this point he's inclined to allow any legitimate group, of any viewpoint, inside his schools.
"I think our default is to allow people access to our facilities. They do belong to the public," Rosandick said. "I would hate to think that school districts like Caldwell would overreact to something like this and resulting in the unnecessary limiting of access to our facilities for legitimate reasons."
'Vote No' organization plans to keep ad the same
When asked for a comment about the ad being shot at a public school, the organization behind the ad issued this statement: "We are very appreciative of the cooperation extended to us by officials at Wilson Elementary School when we filmed our TV ad there on Thursday, August 9th." - Brian Cronin, 'Vote No Props 1, 2, 3' Spokesman.
Cronin clarified that date was before the school year began. He says they are not planning to change the ad.
The Vote No campaign did not have to pay to use the school, which the superintendent says is standard. He has not asked the campaign to change or stop using its ad.