After Superintendent Terry Grier asked principals to attend a meeting about volunteering to help pass Proposition S, the $2.1 billion facilities bond on the ballot for San Diego Unified schools, principals union leaders and bond opponents are concerned that the school district overstepped the line between informing its employees and advocating.

High school principals received an e-mail from their supervisor asking them to “please attend” an early morning meeting at the Girl Scouts headquarters, which is not a San Diego Unified building. Nobody knew what the meeting was about, said Bruce McGirr, president of the Administrators Association. They were surprised when Grier began speaking about the bond measure and asked them to sign up for phone banks touting Proposition S.

Bond campaign consultant Larry Remer said the meeting was held to solicit volunteers to help pass Proposition S, and to inform principals of how to avoid violating the law, which bars them from using public resources to campaign.

“Everybody was there on their own time as a volunteer and it wasn’t on school property,” Remer said, adding that he did not call or lead the meeting.

But McGirr said it left principals “a little bit queasy. It didn’t seem very voluntary to anybody.”

An outside expert said the meeting steered clear of campaigning with district funds because the meeting was not held on San Diego Unified property. As long as the employees weren’t expected to be at their schools, it probably wasn’t a violation, said Robert Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies. Principals have no set work hours listed in their agreement with San Diego Unified.

“If they’re not expected to be in school, it’s not a problem,” Stern said. “It might raise some questions in terms of forcing people to be there, but it doesn’t seem like any money was expended.”

Parent blogger Paul Bowers has an interesting take on the meeting and how it could impact the dynamic between Grier and principals, who have voted to unionize:

For a man thwarted daily by the teacher’s union, why would he add fuel to the rising fire of the Administrator’s Association? … I’m surprised how poorly Grier has treated his employees.  Principals are possibly his most important set of employees. Clearly the low opinion he has for these boots-on-the-ground workers will cost him their support.

I’m playing phone tag with school district attorney Mark Bresee, who attended the meeting, about his understanding of the meeting and the law.

Update: I spoke yesterday with Mark Bresee, general counsel for San Diego Unified, who said he voluntarily attended the meeting. He characterized it as an informational meeting to explain that principals could not use school district funds, supplies, services or equipment to promote the passage or defeat of Proposition S, and to inform them about volunteering opportunities. “The bottom line is, even if this meeting had happened in the board room at 11 o’clock in the morning I still think it was perfectly legal,” Bresee said.


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