SAN ANTONIO — Northside Independent School District responded Monday to allegations that all district employees were "expected" to vote in this year's district bond election and that at least one campus principal's message to staff members illegally coerced them to vote in favor of the bond.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted that if the allegations are true and all employees were expected to come to the polls, "then it is likely a crime. The Education Commissioner with work with the Attorney General's Office to investigate and, if appropriate, prosecute this matter."
A bond totaling $992 million for Northside ISD got more than 57 percent of the votes cast, garnering enough support to pass in Saturday's bond election. Here's a look at what the bond is targeted to fund.
Northside ISD told KENS 5 that they are "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."
The statement came after the issue gained traction on social media. The district said they did look into concerns and found some messaging that should not have been shared.
They said Superintendent Brian Woods had outlined a specific goal of increasing voter engagement among staff in a meeting held April 14.
"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 district said.
The district says the wording was intended to encourage staff to vote.
"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," they said.
"The email that was leaked that was sent to our membership was an internal email that was for the eyes of our membership," said Melina Espiritu-Azocar, chief of staff for the Northside American Federation of Teachers.
The union says they solidly support the bond proposal, but they asked for answers when some of their members questioned alleged electioneering efforts.
"We absolutely did bring those concerns to district leadership," Espiritu-Azocar said. "What they did or how they decided to address those concerns we do not know because they did not share that information with us."
The district said the 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."
The Texas Education Agency confirmed that "the matter is under review at this time."
If an investigation finds any wrongdoing, a violation of this section of the Texas Election Code is considered to be a Class A Misdemeanor, which in general is punishable by up to a $4,000 fine and/or up to a year in county jail.
Full statement from Northside AFT:
"Northside American Federation of Teachers supported the NISD bond and we are pleased that it passed. We know that bonds are necessary to upkeep school building infrastructure and to build new schools in our growing district.
Recently, an internal email we sent to our membership became public alongside other documents allegedly from NISD district administration. Northside AFT has no information about how these documents became public.
Our union did communicate with our members in regards to their concerns about voter intimidation and surveillance. It is our duty and responsibility to work for our membership. When our members bring issues to our attention, we address them and try to help resolve them to the best of our ability.
Northside AFT communicated the concerns to district leadership on multiple occasions. District administration did not advise us as to how these issues were addressed or if they were resolved. Our union condemns voter intimidation, coercion, or illegal electioneering whenever and wherever it occurs.
We believe that educators in Texas have the right and responsibility to be voters in our state, local, and federal elections, but it is solely their choice to vote and to decide who or what to vote for. We often make informed recommendations--and have every legal right to do so–but rely on their good judgment as educators to decide who and what to support. We will continue to advocate for and support our members."