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School officials violated law by emailing information on May ballot questions to parents, state finds

A sign advertising the May 2023 Brookline election. Photo by Sam Mintz
December 1, 2023
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The state Office of Campaign and Political Finance found that Brookline school officials violated campaign finance laws by sending emails with information about ballot questions to parents ahead of the May election.

In a letter to the town sent on Nov. 28, OCPF Director William Campbell said that the use of Brookline schools’ “staff time, computers and email system to distribute materials relative to a ballot question” did not comply with Massachusetts’ campaign finance laws and regulations.

Nine emails sent this past spring, two of which were from Superintendent Linus Guillory, were in violation, the OCPF found. The other seven were sent by various school principals.

The emails included information about the impacts of both an operating override which was on the ballot in May to raise property taxes to fund the town’s general budget, and a separate debt exclusion ballot question, which raised taxes to fund the construction of a new Pierce School. Voters approved both ballot questions.

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The school officials’ researching and compiling of that information was not illegal, the state office found, but using public resources to distribute unsolicited copies of it was.

OCPF noted that the school department has been reimbursed $400 for the costs and staff time leading to the email distribution.

That reimbursement came from anonymous donors to the town, according to Superintendent Guillory. “We agreed to accept on behalf of the town their gift on the condition of maintaining their anonymity,” he wrote in an emailed statement to Brookline.News.

The state agency also said that the Public Schools of Brookline has requested training for its employees in advance of future local ballot questions.

“We committed on behalf of both the town and the PSB to conduct training on campaign finance law for all department and division heads in town and PSB within one year,” Guilory wrote. “Separately, when the Select Board again authorizes local ballot questions, Town Counsel will invite the Office of Campaign and Political Finance to come to Brookline to conduct trainings on campaign finance law.”

Joslin Murphy, the Town Meeting member and former town counsel who initially filed the complaint with the OCPF, connected the campaign finance violations to last week’s Select Board decision not to hold a Special Town meeting on a resolution concerning Israel. That decision was in apparent violation of a state law that requires towns to call special town meetings to consider proposals that are presented with signatures from at least 200 voters.

“These incidents demonstrate what appears to be repeated disregard of the law within the highest levels of Brookline’s leadership,” Murphy said in an email to Brookline.News. “In my view, you can’t defy the law by degrees. And when elected or appointed officials begin deciding which or to what degree laws and regulations apply to them, they are stepping into deeply concerning territory.”

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