Prop. BB Illegally Promoted, Suit Says


A local Libertarian Party member has sued the Los Angeles Unified School District over the recent Proposition BB campaign, alleging the district illegally used public school funds and facilities to promote the $2.4-billion bond measure instead of remaining neutral.

The lawyers for the plaintiff, West Los Angeles resident Neil Donner, are affiliated with the Individual Rights Foundation, a Libertarian group, and one sued the school district five years ago over alleged misuse of school resources in a political campaign.

“They say they used the funding for informational activities. They say they have a [right] to inform voters of the bond information through community meetings and debates,” said Patrick Manshardt, the foundation’s general counsel.


“But that’s not what they were doing,” Manshardt said. “They were running campaigns out of the schools.”

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeks the return of an estimated $100,000 in district funds that were used to help disseminate information about the bond measure.

In addition to the school district, the suit names as defendants outgoing Supt. Sid Thompson, district facilities manager Beth Louragand and Earl Barner, a middle school principal who allowed a banner announcing the bond measure to be hung on his campus before the April 8 election.

Dozens of such banners reading “Proposition BB School Repair Bond Vote April 8” were posted on many of the district’s 900 buildings in the weeks leading up to the election. The district also allowed its schools to be used for public meetings in which paid political consultants and campaign volunteers urged the measure’s passage, the suit says.

After failing to garner the necessary two-thirds vote last November, the bond measure passed this time with 71% voter approval and repairs have already begun at campuses throughout the district.

“The misuse of public resources violates . . . state and federal constitutional rights to free speech, free elections and to exercise the initiative process,” the lawsuit states.



School board President Jeff Horton acknowledged that school funds were used to print banners and brochures discussing the bond’s proposed use. But he said all was done legally and appropriately.

“District funds were used to inform the public, parents and other members of the public, as is our responsibility as a public institution,” Horton said.

School district attorney Howard Friedman said that L.A. Unified has been sued before over its role in controversial ballot measures, and has prevailed each time.

One of Donner’s lawyers, Manuel Klausner, filed suit in 1992 on behalf of proponents of Proposition 174, which would have allowed state tax dollars to be used to subsidize private school tuition. The suit alleged that L.A. Unified allowed district resources to be used to denounce the measure, which failed.

The district was sued again in 1994, by another group, for allegedly taking an active role in fighting the passage of Proposition 187, which sought to deny most government services, including public education, to illegal immigrants.

“Virtually every time the district has been involved in a bond measure or taken any role in a campaign issue we’ve been sued,” Friedman said.


“Uniformly, the district has ultimately prevailed in the position that it hasn’t engaged in campaign activity and not only is it legally allowed to, but has a fiduciary obligation to inform people on the various impacts of a bond or a measure like Prop. 187,” Friedman said.

The lawsuit over Proposition BB is no different, he said. The school district acted within its legal right to disseminate information about the bond measure, how it will affect taxpayers and what it ultimately would mean for schools, Friedman said. He added that each piece of information about the bond was first reviewed by school district attorneys to assure it was within legal boundaries. In addition, guidelines on how to disseminate information were doled out to school employees and volunteers during this campaign, as well as campaigns in the past.


However, the lawsuit contends the Proposition BB campaign did not always conform to state laws, especially when volunteers worked out of school buildings.

“Some of these are close calls, but a lot are outright blatant campaign efforts,” Manshardt said.

He said that while passing John Burroughs Middle School in Los Angeles the Saturday before the election, he spotted volunteers organizing neighborhood canvassing efforts from the campus.

He filed the suit on the day before the election and succeeded in forcing the district to dismantle a Proposition BB display at its downtown headquarters. But Judge Diane Wayne refused to grant a temporary restraining order barring the district from using public funds to continue promoting the bond.