Today, the Southwest Public Policy Institute (SPPI) filed a complaint with the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) over email communications sent by former Volcano Vista High School principal Dr. Vickie C. Bannerman.
In the complaint, SPPI alleges that in 2019, Dr. Bannerman used public resources to send an email campaign to parents directing them to vote “YES” for passage of the bonds being considered during the February 2019 Mill Levies and Bond Election.
SPPI was sent whistleblower documents of Dr. Bannerman’s email in November 2021, leading to a months-long investigation by the research institute. It was determined that Dr. Bannerman sent the email to over 3,500 parents, explicitly directing parents to “vote YES for school funding”.
The actions taken by Dr. Bannerman directly contradict the Albuquerque Public Schools Technology Acceptable Use Policy. According to the policy, APS emails cannot be used to promote one candidate or position over another.
Dr. Bannerman’s email was sent using an APS affiliated email address with a corresponding APS footer identifying the messages as being distributed through the SchoolMessenger service.
SchoolMessenger identifies itself as “a notification service used by the nation’s leading school systems to connect with parents, students and staff through voice, SMS text, email, and social media.”
The bond boosting in New Mexico has been happening for years, while public awareness in Texas is increasing pressure to stop voter coercion. It is a violation of the Texas Election Code for school districts to use taxpayer resources to advocate for or against political candidates and measures.
New Mexico’s free-market think tank Rio Grande Foundation lodged a similar complaint against Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller in late 2019. Mayor Keller used the city’s website to tell voters to support general obligation bonds being consider in that election.
The complaint was eventually settled in the Foundation’s favor with a statement from the Keller administration acknowledging the wrongdoing: “the posting encouraging people to vote yes […] should not have been made on the City’s website.”
Patrick Brenner, president of Southwest Public Policy Institute, says that the use of public resources to inform voters about elections is not at issue. Rather, the error lies in telling voters how to vote.
“Informing voters about upcoming elections is important. Voting is the very bedrock of our democratic society,” said Brenner. “The issue is that public employees are using public resources to intentionally influence elections by telling voters to support or oppose particular measures. That’s the problem.”
The complaint was submitted to APS Superintendent Scott Elder and New Mexico Secretary of Education Dr. Kurt Steinhaus. Dr. Bannerman was included on the distribution, and is now the Deputy Secretary of Identity, Equity and Transformation at NMPED.
In the complaint, SPPI called the issue pertinent and relevant given the recent Texas events, concluding with an open question: what can be done to ensure that actions like this do not occur again?
A copy of the complaint was submitted to the New Mexico Attorney General’s office.