A school board candidate has alleged that the Hesperia Unified School District and one of its employee unions have violated state law.

Chris Bentley, one of six candidates for two open seats on the Hesperia Unified School District school board this November, has alleged that Ruth Ter Kurst, the president of California School Employees Association #684, and the HUSD have violated state and district policy by allowing her to use district resources on the behalf of two school board candidates endorsed by the union.

On Wednesday, September 24, the CSEA is sponsoring a forum for school board candidates, and Ter Kurst said she has invited each of the men running. The forum will be held on school district property, in the annex building behind HUSD headquarters on Main Street. That normally wouldn't be a problem -- the Parents Coordinating Council has previously sponsored similar forums, and will do so again this year -- except that the CSEA has endorsed candidates Frank Rich and Eric Swanson. And that changes things, Bentley said.

"It is grossly unfair for [the HUSD] to permit the use of public facilities for their partisan purposes," he said. "It is also illegal for them to do so."

"It honestly took me by surprise," Ter Kurst said of the complaint. "My whole theory behind it was that I deal with [non-teaching] employees all the time who said 'I didn't know about that,' 'I wasn't told about that.' ... The more information you have, the better decisions you make."

"Even though they've endorsed, as long as it stays non-partisan" it's legally allowable, said Superintendent Mark McKinney. "Everyone's been invited, it falls under the idea of a civic center," in other words, a public venue various community groups can use for their meetings. "They can't stand up there that night and say 'these [candidates] are the best two.' ... That one I did check legal on, just to make sure, and we're good."

"They cannot use any district equipment -- cannot use, it is explicit. What about chairs, what about microphones?" Bentley said. "I'm certainly not going to participate in this forum. I think it's illegal, and that's about it."

He cited California Education Code 7054 (a) and Government Code 3205, which prohibits the use of school district "funds, services, supplies, or equipment" for the purpose of urging support for a candidate and prohibits public employees soliciting political contributions from other agency members.

Bentley also pointed to an employee newsletter, printed by the HUSD's print shop, which lists Ter Kurst's work extension as the point of contact for CSEA members wanting to help elect Rich and Swanson.

"Ruth does not have a phone, does not have an extension. The people do, and they let her use it," Bentley said. "They were obviously using district time and resources to do this."

"Clearly, it was a mistake [for Ter Kurst] to put contact information at the district office," McKinney said. "I have dealt with that. CSEA has done a retraction, not only in the newsletter, but a posting went around to school sites, but it also went on the Web."

The CSEA newsletter, which contained the endorsements of Rich and Swanson, and was printed by the HUSD, was "fine," according to the superintendent.

"The CSEA newsletter can contain political information. They did not use district post offices, they did not; they handed them out. But her using her work number was wrong, and that's what they had to fix, and they have complied."

The union also didn't get their newsletter printed for free, but paid for the print shop to do the work.

"CSEA does pay the outside rate, and they did pay that outside rate for their newsletter, which they have done for some time," McKinney said.

This is not the first time Bentley has made such accusations.

"It's the exact same thing as in 2006, when the HUSD officials and board members decided to get involved in the political process [in a partisan way] and they got their hands slapped with a letter from the DA that said 'don't do that,'" Bentley said. "Public employees and public officials need to stay out of the political process while they're being paid to do what they do."

During the 2006 election, then-superintendent Hank Richardson and three school board members -- Jack Hamilton, Bruce Minton and Helen Rogers -- distributed a letter to the editor to local newspapers, including the Hesperia Star, disputing assertions made by the three candidates who eventually won the election.

In April of 2007, San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Frank Vanella agreed the letter violated the state's open government law.

The district "did this stuff in 2006 and were told that it was illegal," Bentley said. "HUSD employees and management are paid to do HUSD business, not play politics with HUSD dollars. They're more than welcome to do it on their time and on their dime, but not on mine."

"They were wrong to use the district phone number. Clearly wrong," McKinney said. "They sent a retraction, they fixed all that. The other complaints are unfounded. ... There's no law that's been broken here."

"The last time I thought I saw some illegal political activity, I was right," Bentley said. "It just took forever for the district attorney to say I was right."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.