Rantz: Bethel School District teachers, staff are using students to pass school levy
Teachers in the Bethel School District are using their students to promote an election with a levy that directly benefits them. This is a remarkable abuse of power.
Voters are deciding on two levies that would bring in an additional $50 million to the district over two years. The superintendent says he will have to fire roughly 600 teachers and cut programs, including some sports, if the levy does not pass. The special election is on April 26.
According to KOMO, the Bethel Education Association, the union representing teachers in the district, proposed a competition amongst students to increase voter turnout. But it’s merely a strategy to use children to pester adults into supporting the levy.
Abuse of power for personal gain
The competition asks students to return the “I voted” tabs connected to ballots after a parent mails in their vote. The classroom that collects the most tabs wins. Bethel’s PTA calls it the Battle of the Ballots. Several parents were told that the classroom with the most ballot tabs wins a prize.
A worksheet given to students at Pioneer Valley asks the student or family member to write down the name of the voter in the household who turned in their ballot and the date it was mailed in. It promises a “tasty prize” to the classroom that wins the contest.
It’s not just an effort to get out the vote, but to support the levy. Some residents are not happy with the strategy.
“The teachers shouldn’t be utilized for political reasons,” one voter told KOMO.
One parent even alleged that a teacher sent home printable ballots for students to hand to parents, though the district denies it. But given how active the school has been in promoting the election, I believe the parent.
The entire district is lobbying in favor of the levies
Superintendent Tom Siegel says they’re not doing anything wrong. And the district says these competitions are nothing new.
“We can provide information but we cannot tell people how to vote,” Seigel said. “That’s entirely up to them.”
But he is clearly lobbying in support of the levy. On the district’s Facebook page, he makes a personal video pitch.
“Nobody wins with a double levy failure. That’s the message Superintendent Tom Seigel wants to impart to Bethel voters as they prepare to cast their ballots in our April 26 Special Election. Seigel warned that it could take a full decade for our schools to recover if these vitally important levy renewals once again fail,” the post reads.
The district page also posted a video with the Bethel High School basketball coach promoting the importance of levies to fund sports programs.
The district is using kids for political gain
If a teacher used his or her students to promote a Republican candidate for president or governor, it would be a massive scandal. Would the superintendent be okay with a teacher using influence over their students to promote Donald Trump if he runs for re-election? No district staff member should use kids to promote any candidate or issue on a ballot.
Staffers do not have to explicitly say to kids, “get your parents to vote for the levies!” for one to know the entire purpose of this competition is to garner support. The district is involved in a full-court press to rally the troops. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a levy that objectively helps the district. That’s not the point.
When it becomes clear where a teacher or staffer stands on a political issue, it puts pressure on children and their parents to support the position out of fear that they’ll suffer classroom consequences if they don’t. Why wouldn’t it be appropriate for the same teachers to pressure families to vote for a candidate they think would benefit the district if it’s okay to do it when it comes to levies?
Special elections tend to have low turnout and there’s a lot on the line for the teachers who stand to lose their jobs if the levies don’t pass. It makes sense why the staff want the levies to garner support. This isn’t merely a nonpartisan promotion of the civic duty to vote. It’s using children to do their political bidding and it’s a giant step too far.
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