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Anti-Prop. 174 Activity by Schools Is Alleged : Initiative: Voucher backers ask the D.A. to investigate whether Tustin district sent illegal campaign material home with children. Educators say no laws were broken.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

School voucher proponents on Wednesday asked the Orange County district attorney’s office to investigate whether the Tustin school district broke the law by sending information about the ballot initiative home with students this month.

In a letter to Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi, Yes on 174 campaign consultant Ken Khachigian reiterated allegations made last week to the state attorney general’s office that nearly 30 school districts, including Tustin, illegally used public money to photocopy or distribute partisan materials about the voucher initiative.

But officials of the Tustin Unified School District maintain that the material, which was printed on the back of the school lunch menu in September and sent home with every student in kindergarten through eighth grade, was solely factual in nature and therefore did not violate state laws prohibiting public time, equipment or funds from being used for political purposes.

The statewide initiative, to be voted on Nov. 2, would give parents vouchers for about $2,600 which could be spent at any voucher-redeeming private, parochial or public school.

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“There is widespread and pernicious abuse of public office and taxpayer funds involved in these actions,” Khachigian said in the letter to Capizzi. “Moreover, we believe the activity is widespread throughout the county as efforts are being made to influence the parents of schoolchildren by the illegal expenditure of public funds.”

Tustin Supt. David Andrews rejected the critique, saying, “We haven’t done anything wrong.”

“It’s not political information at all,” Andrews said of the one-page flyer titled “Important Facts about Proposition 174 (‘School Voucher’).”

“School districts have a right to inform the public of any legislation that could impact the school district, and that’s what this is,” he said. “They are facts and only facts. They are not partisan in any way.”

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But Yes on 174 contends that the Tustin flyer includes false facts, assumptions and conclusions and therefore is argumentative, not strictly factual.

Capizzi said Wednesday that he had referred the matter to his office’s special assignments section for review. A spokesman for Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren said his office is still deciding whether to investigate the complaint against Tustin and the other districts.

Mark Bucher, who is leading Orange County’s pro-voucher campaign, said people have told him about potential misuse of public funds by the anti-voucher campaign in Santa Ana, Westminster and Capistrano Unified but that Tustin “is the worst offender” locally.

In Westminster, parent Deborah Rambo reported seeing anti-voucher material being photocopied Wednesday at the Fay Fryberger Elementary School. “It was telling parents to vote no on Proposition 174, because if they voted yes it would screw up their child’s education,” Rambo said. “They’re not supposed to be doing that on company time.”

Audrey Brown, a spokeswoman for the Westminster school district, said all district employees were told on opening day not to use school time or equipment for the voucher campaign. Upon hearing of the Fryberger incident, Brown promised to investigate and to reiterate the rules to teachers.

“We just have to be very, very careful here. We know that this type of thing--even though it sounds small--can jeopardize what we’re doing,” Brown said. “We know all the rules. . . . Every once in a while, there’s a slip that you have to catch.”


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