The Cold Spring School District faces further scrutiny as the California Fair Political Practices Commission looks at its handling of the Montecito district’s proposed bond measure L2020 — which was narrowly defeated in November.
Don Miller, a neighbor of Cold Spring School and L2020 opponent, sent screenshots of potential FPPC violations to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which forwarded them to the FPPC mid-May.
Mr. Miller believes the Yes on Cold Spring School Measure L2020 campaign, which is separate from the district, was unfair.
“I thought it was a pretty unfair process. It was only a small group of us fighting the bond to raise the issue of the neighbors,” he told the News-Press. “They had unlimited resources.”
In a second complaint, he is wary of the district’s resources being used for the promotion of L2020, which is prohibited.
The FPPC is looking into Mr. Miller’s claims, but the investigation itself doesn’t imply wrongdoing.
In late March, Jennifer Miller (no familial relation to Don Miller), a trustee at the Cold Spring School District, filed an FPPC complaint against L2020’s opponents. The groups operated by two names: Taxpayers for Responsible School Spending and Our Students Deserve Better Committee.
Her complaint alleges that the groups spent more money campaigning than they were allowed without registering themselves as a political committee.
Mr. Miller was part of those groups and launched his complaints after the FPPC rejected the case against him.
He alleges he and other members of Taxpayers for Responsible School Spending acted individually, so it wasn’t a real committee.
Cold Spring’s superintendent, Dr. Amy Alzina, did not issue a comment about the complaints.
The evidence against the district is an informational flier the district sent out. The flier has headings such as “Why a general obligation bond?” and “What will we do with $7.8 million (sic)?”
It also disclosed the cost to taxpayers. Materials distributed by districts must only be informational in nature, showing both the benefits and costs of such measures without apparent advocacy.
The commission will have to decide if the district leaned too far.
The second complaint is against the Yes on Cold Spring School Measure L2020 campaign. The FPPC lists Dylan Johnson, the group’s treasurer and a Cold Spring parent, as a respondent.
The evidence against the campaign includes Facebook posts on a page named “Cold Spring School Bond” with children’s art advocating for L2020 and postcards sent to voters.
After the News-Press reached out to the Facebook page for comment, the page was removed.
It is unclear what could be noncompliant from the files received by the FPPC. Some of the postcards include photos that appear to be taken on school grounds, but that would be legal if individuals captured those pictures.
Mr. Miller first became interested in the bond measure when he saw news of it in a local publication. As a neighbor to the school, he questioned why he hadn’t received any information yet.
“I just didn’t want to pay for something else because I knew they had money left over from 2008,” he said, referencing a smaller bond measure with remaining funds.
He used neighborhood network app Nextdoor to ask what other people thought, and he became connected with people who were suspicious of the district.
A few community members have requested the district consider a Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team audit of Measure C2008 funds.
An independent audit of the district’s handling of Measure C funds showed full compliance, but an FCMAT audit takes a deeper look.
The district discussed the prospect of a FCMAT audit during a school board meeting Thursday night. The estimated cost is just over $15,000.