Northside ISD says messaging over bond election was ‘miscommunication’ that was quickly addressed

Officials respond to claims after Gov. Greg Abbott indicated district would be under investigation

SAN ANTONIO – Northside ISD officials on Monday defended their actions after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott indicated the district would be under investigation amid allegations that staff felt pressured to vote in Saturday’s bond election.

On Saturday, Abbott said Education Commissioner Mike Morath and the Attorney General’s Office will look into the district’s actions after leaked emails in a Twitter thread from Corey DeAngelis, the National Director of Research for the America Federation for Children, a group that fights for school choice. Emails from a Northside ISD principal suggested that the district’s central office is monitoring employee participation in the election and that “all employees will be expected to vote for this year’s bond.”

In a statement, the district confirmed that the messaging was sent by a campus principal in an April 18 newsletter, calling it a “miscommunication.”

“This miscommunication was immediately addressed by the principal’s supervisor and the principal, a veteran and well-respected leader, took corrective action,” according to the statement sent by Barry Perez, NISD’s Executive Director of Communications. “The messaging provided to district staff was solely intended to encourage the goal of increasing staff participation in the voting process. This messaging was never intended to be coercive and immediate measures were taken to clarify and correct any messaging that may have been misrepresented, misinterpreted, or miscommunicated.”

Superintendent Brian Woods set out to increase voter turnout among staff in an in-person meeting with other district leaders on April 14.

“Encouraging voter participation in all elections has been a consistent message expressed by the Superintendent,” according to the statement.

District officials are “confident” that their actions “adhered to all legal requirements and guidelines” after consulting with bond legal counsel.

“Northside ISD has a long history of school bond elections and has always conducted these ethically, legally, and with transparency,” the statement read.

Under Texas law, public employees cannot use public resources in statements that “is sufficiently substantial and important as to be reasonably likely to influence a voter to vote for or against the measure.”

Northside AFT Chief of Staff Melina Espiritu-Azocar confirmed that the teachers union expressed those concerns to district leaders leading up to the bond election. Espiritu-Azocar said the leak did not come from the union, and that the group was “disappointed” with how it was portrayed on social media.

“That’s not helpful or beneficial,” Espiritu-Azocar said.

The union endorsed the bond, which passed Saturday, giving the district $992 million to renovate old schools and buy new buses.

As for Abbott’s comments, Espiritu-Azocar said the governor was just looking to stir his base with “political rhetoric.”

“If he is really truly concerned about public education funding, then schools should be properly funded so they don’t have to seek bonds,” Espiritu-Azocar said. “So we are disappointed in his behavior as we typically are.”

Read the district’s full statement below:

Northside ISD is confident that the district and its leaders have adhered to all legal requirements and guidelines in facilitating and conducting school district elections, including our recent school bond election.

In an in-person meeting held April 14 with district leaders, the Superintendent outlined a specific goal of increasing voter engagement among staff, including those staff members living within the district. Encouraging voter participation in all elections has been a consistent message expressed by the Superintendent.

District officials received information on April 28 that messaging sent by a campus principal in an April 18 newsletter was directing staff to vote “for” the bond. This miscommunication was immediately addressed by the principal’s supervisor and the principal, a veteran and well-respected leader, took corrective action.

The messaging provided to district staff was solely intended to encourage the goal of increasing staff participation in the voting process. This messaging was never intended to be coercive and immediate measures were taken to clarify and correct any messaging that may have been misrepresented, misinterpreted, or miscommunicated.

Throughout this school bond election, NISD has communicated with bond legal counsel to ensure all legal requirements have been met including an ethics presentation by bond legal counsel to all district leaders. NISD has utilized common practices and strategies to analyze and gauge voter engagement - always with the intent to educate and inform our stakeholders and to encourage voter participation.

Northside ISD has a long history of school bond elections and has always conducted these ethically, legally, and with transparency.

NISD Executive Director of Communications Barry Perez

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About the Author:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.