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Letter to School Board 9-9-11

Letter to School Board 9-9-11

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Published by Frank Corder

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Published by: Frank Corder on Sep 15, 2011
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09/15/2011

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September 9, 2011Mr. Mike PhillipsPresident, Pascagoula School Board1006 Communy AvenuePascagoula, MS 39568Dear Mr. Phillips,I trust this correspondence finds you and your fellow members of the Pascagoula School Board well.I write to you today as a concerned parent and taxpayer in the Pascagoula School District. As you wellknow, I hold elected office on the Pascagoula City Council, but the matter to which I write here has nobearing on my duties nor do I write in that capacity. The comments to follow are strictly my thoughtsand should not be construed in any manner as speaking on behalf of any of my colleagues on the CityCouncil or for the City of Pascagoula.I continue to be disturbed by recent events that remain in question regarding the use of materials takenfrom The Parents Campaign and presented in the back-to-school teacher/staff meeting the day prior tothe August primary elections. I believe the matter is to be discussed this coming Monday evening, atwhich time I will regrettably be unable to attend due to a prior commitment.At the August School Board meeting, this matter was referred to Mr. Kelly Sessoms, school districtattorney, to review and make a legal recommendation to you and your colleagues on the PascagoulaSchool Board if indeed the use of the material from The Parents Campaign was against school boardpolicy or not. I must admit that I found the referral to legal counsel disconcerting in that board policiesare in question thus the matter is subject to the discretion and interpretation of the board. While Mr.Sessoms may advise you as to legal precedents on similar matters, he is not a board member and it isnot his policy. You and your colleagues must make the determination of appropriateness andapplication of such board policies, and I trust you will.Since first learning of this matter and having attended the August meeting, I am concerned that you andyour colleagues may not fully appreciate the concerns I and many others in the community shareregarding this subject. To help you identify with my concerns, I have provided commentary below that Ihope you will consider as you make the final determination of whether the actions of that day violatedboard policy or not.
The Parents Campaign states its mission is to “
ensure a brighter future for Mississippi children bypromoting better public schools
through parent advocacy 
. We
inform parents
of legislation that affectsour schools, help them identify and contact their own legislators, and report to them about how theirlegislators vote on bills that determine the level of education offered their children. By
giving parents
a
means by which their voices can be heard, we are working together to change our state for the better.”
 
 
2403 King Avenue, Pascagoula, MS 39567(228) 623.1236 * frank@frankcorder.com
 
I trust you can see that The Parents Campaign does not speak of itself as an advocate for educating orinforming teachers and public employees on legislative voting records, nor does it state that theirinformation is meant for anyone other than the parents of Mississippi children. They function by theirown admission as a parent advocacy group. Their mission does, however, point to the inherent politicalnature of their work.The Parents Campaign parades itself as a non-partisan coalition of parents. Some during the Augustschool board meeting used
the term “non
-
partisan” as a means by which the original action should be
 justified, as if were apolitical. To the contrary, t
he very term “non
-
partisan”
is political in nature; thusThe Parents Campaign is a political organization by their own admission and outlined in their missionstatement.As a reference,
Webster’s Dictionary defines “political” as “of or
relating to government, a government,or the conduct of government; of, relating to, or concerned with the making as distinguished from theadministration of governmental policy; of, relating to, involving, or involved in politics and especiallyparty politics; organized in governmental terms; and involving or charged or concerned with acts against
a government or a political system.”
While some non-partisan groups are truly such, most, in fact, are by and large identifiable with apolitical party when you research their activities. This is indeed the case with The Parents Campaign.Most astute political observers a
round the state could argue this group’s “non
-
partisan” claim
with ease,what with their paid lobbyist and obvious political affiliations routinely shown during legislative talks.
According to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s website, The Parents Campaign is not only a non
-profitadvocacy group, but it focuses its attention on lobbying. The Parents Campaign has had three registeredlobbyists under its umbrella
 –
Executive Director Nancy Loome, Deborah Meador and Cynthia White.As a general thought, a lobbyist is someone, or a group, that represents their interests before a politicalbody in an attempt to influence the will of that political body and direct a specific outcome to benefitsaid lobbyist. Any information developed by lobbyists then would be political in nature and would beintended to address political issues. The information may be perceived as non-partisan, but it isdefinitely not apolitical. Political organizations produce political materials.Another interesting point is that Dick Molpus is listed as the Vice President of The Parents Campaign.You may remember Molpus as the Democratic S
ecretary of State back in the 1980’s as well as the
Democratic nominee for Governor in 1995. However, Molpus is just one politically active member of this
group’s inner circle; I could gladly name others. While a
ffiliation with former political leaders may notbe an indictment that The Parents Campaign is non-partisan, any logical person could make thecorrelation to a specific political affiliation whether such influence is practiced above or below the table.
What’s more, I would be remiss in
highlighting the political nature of The Parents Campaign if I did not
also point out the group’s mass emails, routinely laced with quotes from legislators who sit squarely on
the proverbial left side of the aisle at the Capitol, legislators such as Democratic Rep. Cecil Brown.
 
The Parents Campaign is solely focused on one issue
 –
education. While such focus can be appreciated,especially between you and your colleagues, not welcoming explanation or reasoning behind legislativevotes from those the group characterizes as not being pro-education is troublesome. The ParentsCampaign has their political agenda set in stone and has not welcomed conversation about the otherparts of the state budget which in turn effects education. Education funding is important, but so ishealthcare, public safety and other state budget lines; it is one element amongst many. Simply takingone element out of the mix without considering the other parts is shortsighted and, yes, politicallyexpedient for partisan political gain.Further, varying fiscal political ideologies play into how these legislators vote. Some preach fiscal
restraint and living within our means, while others hold fast to a “spend now, pray later” fiscal ideology,
while all seemingly hold education in high regard. Discernment in these matters then is only gainedthrough conversation and true want of understanding, which The Parents Campaign has traditionallylacked.The Pascagoula School District's board policy as posted online states:Section G, Number GAHBB:
Public funds cannot be used for political activity of any kind by anyperson or organization involved in the administration of public school assisted programs. TheBoard of Trustees of the School District recognizes the right of every employee to vote as he/shechooses and to express his/her opinions on political subjects and candidates.
 Given the information above and the understanding that indeed The Parents Campaign is a politicalorganization in every sense of the word, it seems evident that public funds were used for politicalactivity by and for school employees. It also seems apparent that public funds were expended to createthe presentation in question, whether through technical resources in the use of public equipment aswell as by
use of an employee’s time to compile the information. Further
, public funds were expended
by allowing/requiring public employees to view the material while on the taxpayers’ clock.
There is no doubt in my mind that the presentation in question violated Pascagoula School District boardpolicy Section G, Number GAHBB.Additionally, Board policy also states:Section G, Number GAHB:
The board recognizes the right of its employees and encouragesthem as citizens to engage in activities which exemplify good citizenship. However, schoolproperty and school time shall not be used for political purposes.
 Again, knowing full well that The Parents Campaign is a political organization, this policy was alsoviolated as the presentation in question was likely compiled and definitely presented on school propertyon school time.
Please note that there is no reference in either of these board policies to the term “non
-
partisan,” onlyto “political activity,” “political purposes,” and “political subjects.”
When you add in the timing of the presentation in question
 –
one day before the August primaryelections - the intent becomes clearer still. The presentation was for all intensive purposes meant to

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