Highline bond issue proponent complains of violations of disclosure law

EDITOR’S NOTE: This report was updated on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015

by Jack Mayne

The Highline Citizens for Schools has filed a complaint with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission claiming the opponents to the narrowly-defeated bond issue failed to properly file as a political action committee, which it denies.

The bond issue last November fell less than 1 percent short of passage, or by a margin of only 215 votes, failing to reach the state required 60 percent approval.

Lois Schipper, president of the Highline Citizens for Schools, said in a telephone interview with The B-Town Blog on Monday (Jan. 12) that she had been informed by the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) only last Friday (Jan. 9) that it had accepted her group’s challenge. It took several phone calls and follow-ups to get the complaint acknowledged by the commission, she said.

On Tuesday, by telephone, Philip Stutzman of the Public Disclosure Commission said the complaint is dated Oct. 7, but was not found until much later, leading to the acceptance of the complaint. Schipper said her committee first filed a complaint on Oct. 7 and followed up on Nov. 30 but did not get official word of its acceptance until last week, she said.

Stutzman said he could make no comment on the nature or specifics of the case while it is pending, nor could he comment on the timing of a decision.

The Highline Citizens for Schools (HCS) charges Sensible Spending on Schools (SSOS) with illegally operating a campaign to defeat Highline’s capital improvement bond on last November’s ballot, and never filing financial records with the state, as required by law.

‘Smear Campaign’
Schipper said that Stutzman, PDC director of compliance, said the SSOC is accused of “failing to register and report as a political action committee in its efforts to oppose a Highline School District bond measure.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 13, Stutzman said he had never talked directly with Steele but the information comes from the boilerplate letter sent accepting the complaint.

Sensible Spending on Schools denied the accusation. Its’ leader, Karen Steele, said the charge was “a smear campaign to try to discredit those who oppose Proposition 1 and a public relations attempt … to gain more notoriety in the media.”

Karen Steele of Sensible Spending on Schools (SSOS) said she has received a request from the PDC for more information on SSOS, “which we are complying with.”

“As originally directed by the PDC, we are registered with the Washington State Department of Revenue. All donations received are in a segregated account and every penny received or spent is detailed and accounted for.

Stutzman could not comment because the case is now ongoing before the commission.

“There has never been an attempt on the part of SSOS or anyone working to defeat the School Construction Bond, Prop 1 to deceive anyone. I am confident that once the facts are revealed, it will be obvious that Lois Schipper and her group are resorting to dirty politics to account for why the School Bond failed in Nov. She was mortified that there was any opposition at all and how dare the public disagree.”

Law requires disclosure
State law requires individuals and groups that engage in political campaign activities to report revenue and expenditures as public records, so voters know who is backing or opposing measures and candidates, Schipper said.

“SSOS is hiding information from voters and violating the principle of free and fair elections,” she said. “It is time for SSOS to come out of the shadows and let voters know who they are and what they stand for.”

If passed, the bond would have replaced deteriorating, out-of-date buildings with safe, modern schools; built two additional schools to relieve increasing overcrowding and make room for lower class sizes; and funded desperately-needed repairs and upgrades to schools across the district.

A new measure is now slated for another vote on the Feb. 10. It is a similar bond proposal, trimmed by $9 million, along with renewal of the district’s Educational Programs and Operations Levy, which pays for basic education needs not fully funded by the state.

Schipper said Highline Citizens for Schools has filed all required records with the PDC.


5 Responses to “Highline bond issue proponent complains of violations of disclosure law”
  1. SSOS Sensible Spending on Our Schools says:

    This is just another attempt by Lois Schipper and the Highline Citizens for Schools to muzzle the opposition. Apparently they resent our First Amendment Right of Free Speech.

    She was mortified that anyone would DARE oppose the school bond and now she is looking for the reason it failed. Plain and simple….the people have little faith in the HSDB to efficiently and responsibly manage the citizens’ money. This is nothing more than trying to get media attention and it will backfire. Sensible Spending on Our Schools is in FULL compliance with the PDC, have been in talks with Philip Stutzman, Director of Compliance and anyone who doesn’t believe this should call the PDC themselves. We have done nothing wrong except try to get the truth regarding this Bond out to the public so they could make an informed decision.

    This is not China and Lois Schipper should realize that the HCS does not have a lock on being the only ones to carry on a campaign. This bond is flawed and that is why it failed, plain and simple. She is looking to knock out any opposition and this is not the way to do it.

    She and the HSDB have carried out a campaign that just skirts the laws for propriety with the PDC.



  2. Earl Gipson says:

    No such complaint showing up on PDC website.

  3. Michael T Kovacs says:

    Lois Schipper, president of the Highline Citizens for Schools is part of that underground mess called the 33rd Legislative Democrats. They prop up these crazy people like Unlected SeaTac Mayor Mia Gregerson aka 33rd Legislative District Democrat Represenative. Bunch of carpet baggers. Then want you to vote for large wasteful spending tax increases. I am all for education but the Highline School District is not effective and wastes money.

    Hope this looses again.


  4. John says:

    Wild acquisitions and blind assumptions, this is what the Highline School Board has resorted to.

  5. Laura Castronover says:

    First of all, I thank the editor for re-wording this report. It has been mine and Sensible Spending on Our Schools intention to provide information why this bond should not be approved as it is written. If the wrong paperwork was filed, so be it, it is being corrected. Its not like large real estate firms and high profiled public relations teams that donated to Highline Citizens for Schools will burden our taxes. I am sure there is an ulterior motive. This bond is flawed in so many ways and very expensive. I have a child in the Highline School District and I want my child to get an education in a well maintained school, but I am more focused on the level of education given. I have been very vocal in my opposition in moving Des Moines Elementary to another location from the beginning. Writing the opposition statement in the 2014 Voters’ Pamphlet educated me on all the schools in the whole district.

    What I learned is that we are still paying on two previous bonds until 2026. Fourteen schools were built mainly elementary schools. These new schools did nothing to boost our property values, and some of these schools have the lowest academic scores. So that makes me believe that new buildings do not make an area a desirable place to live.

    I went to many council meetings on the bond issue and was more concerned about the state of Evergreen High School than any other school. Even Michael Spear, the Board President of the Highline School Board was so concerned that he had to go see the school’s condition for himself. Based on the Building Evaluation Study done on the schools, Evergreen has $23,921,870 million dollars of needed improvements. Highline High School that is proposed to be rebuilt, needs $24,781,126 million dollars in needed improvements. With this proposed bond $159.6 million dollars would go to rebuilding Highline High School alone. Evergreen High School is sharing $25 million dollars with Tyee High School on these critical repairs, so basically all critical needs will not be taken care of at Evergreen. Based on the Q & A section of the Highline Schools website, they plan to ask for another bond to rebuild Evergreen and Tyee schools in three to five years.

    Des Moines Elementary is old, we get that, but it has a lot of character, brick façade, wood floors. They say this site is too small to rebuild, however they already had shown plans of a new school in this location, so it can be done. Des Moines Elementary school academic rating is one of the best elementary schools in Highline, moving it to the south point of Des Moines will most likely destroy the community involvement in this school. Having it located in the heart of the city makes it a desirable location. Surely they can work something out with the city of Des Moines that was just recently declared insolvent. One of the arguments is that the new location will house 600 + students for an expectation of increased enrollment in south Des Moines in 8 to 10 years. How is expectation going to alleviate current overcrowding at Cedarhurst Elementary with over 700 students? Even sending our eleven year olds to middle school will not help with the overcrowding at this school. Yet we leave schools vacant in this area to deteriorate and be ruined by vandals. Paying six million to take care of the critical needs for Des Moines Elementary would be more well received from the community, rather than moving and building from scratch near a Salmon creek and a housing development that will loose their greenbelt to a bus parking area.

    Furthermore, why would we need to spend $160 million dollars on two new middle schools when we have critical needs in our existing middle schools? Is this going to divide the community with the have and have-nots?

    We should also take into consideration of the Levy renewal. They state this is a slight increase…..Over 22%, that’s more than slight. Our Current four year Levy, 2012 and 2013 we paid $46 million dollars. 2014 it was $47 million dollars. We are currently paying $49 million dollars this year. If this Levy is approved we will go to a three year Levy in the amount of:
    2016 $55.5 million,
    2017 $60.8 million
    2018 $64.7 million.
    So if this is approved, will we no longer see four year Levys? Will they now be three or two year Levys? We all know they will always have an increase. You will not find answers to these questions in the Q & A section of the Highline Schools website.

    Bottom line $376 million dollars is a lot of money for a district where 75% of our kids are on reduced/free meal programs. It will be a 58% increase in our school bond property taxes. With the renewal Levy, school taxes will increase significantly. The maintenance department was downsized yet new positions were created in administration. It has already been acknowledge this bond will not take care of everything in our district and more bonds will be asked from us within three to five years. The school board did not even acknowledge our letter to come together as a community, they used smear campaign tactics by responding only on a blog. We rejected this bond in November and no changes were made to it. As for the narrowing 59% approval, keep in mind 50% of registered voters did not even vote.

    Lets send a message to the Highline School District Board that we want a bond we can afford and agree upon. I encourage a No on Proposition 2, Highline Construction Bond. Remember Not voting is not a No Vote.

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