Pasco School District asks state to review its practices

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJune 6, 2013 

The Pasco School District has asked state officials to review its practices after learning of allegations its superintendent and a citizen committee broke state election laws by campaigning for a $46.8 million bond.

Roger Lenk, a west Pasco resident, told the Herald that he's going to file a 220-page complaint against the district with the Washington Attorney General's Office, as well as with state education, auditing and disclosure agencies.

Lenk said documents he received from a public records request allegedly show Superintendent Saundra Hill using district resources to promote the bond. And he claims the district had a "hand in glove" relationship with Pasco Citizens for Better Schools, a committee of citizens that advocates for bonds and levies in the district.

By law, public employees cannot campaign for a bond or levy while they are on duty. Public facilities and resources cannot be used.

District officials are allowed to provide information about the bond and how the district would be affected if it passes or fails.

Lenk told the Herald that he wants February's passage of the bond invalidated and a new election held.

"When I started reading through the emails, I said, 'Wait a minute here,' " Lenk told the Herald.

The district said in a statement that every effort is made to comply with state law and guidelines from the state's Public Disclosure Commission to provide information during elections. Hill contacted the commission Wednesday to ask for the review after being called by the Herald.

"I believe we have complied with all the laws and regulations," Hill said in the statement. "The district will fully cooperate with any review or recommendations from the state agency."

Pasco voters passed the bond with 62 percent approval. It will pay for two new elementary schools and an early learning center along with other projects, such as the relocation of New Horizons High School.

With enrollment growing by hundreds of students each year, district officials had said that without the bond's passage, they may have needed to start multitrack, year-round schooling to accommodate them.

In Lenk's complaint, which he plans to send to the state on Monday, he alleges Hill and other district employees used their time as district employees, district resources and facilities to promote the bond.

He alleges emails from district officials show district support of fundraising activities for bond proponents among district employees, requirements that district employees attend bond information sessions and use of district email to inform employees of promotions supportive of the bond.

He also alleges the district's statements about multi-track, year-round schools and doubleshifting were used as threats to voters.

Lenk said the district ignored him and his efforts to provide an official opposition to the bond for the voter's pamphlet, despite his contacting them.

He said the district required him to go through lengthy official processes to receive information about the bond, but documents show the district quickly responded to similar requests from the citizen committee supporting the bond.

Lenk said he opposed the bond because he thinks Pasco is building its schools for too many students. For example, many grade schools are designed for 450 to 550 students. Pasco's new elementaries are being built for 725 to 750 students.

Lenk also said the bond is paying for projects he said are not needed.

He said he did not complain directly to the district about his intent to file a complaint.

"I don't need to tell them what they did, I'm sure they know," he said.

Lenk has battled the city or Pasco since 2011 over annexation of the area of Franklin County known as the "doughnut hole."

He has led efforts to block the annexation and to gather petition signatures to incorporate the doughnut hole as a new city called Riverview.

He has made public records requests that Pasco described as voluminous, and was awarded $12,000 in a previous lawsuit in which a judge determined that the city didn't provide records in a timely fashion.

Pasco since has annexed part of the doughnut hole, but Lenk and a citizen group are continuing to fight the annexation in court.

And in February, Lenk filed two new lawsuits against Pasco alleging the city violated provisions of the state's Public Records Act, including claims that two council members improperly used their city email accounts for personal business.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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