Government & Politics

Blue Valley school district apologizes after letter to lawmakers draws complaints

A letter to Johnson County lawmakers from Blue Valley Schools raised an uproar as it appeared the district was endorsing them ahead of primary elections next month. The district has apologized and said it did not intend to endorse anyone.
A letter to Johnson County lawmakers from Blue Valley Schools raised an uproar as it appeared the district was endorsing them ahead of primary elections next month. The district has apologized and said it did not intend to endorse anyone.

With three weeks to go before the Kansas primary election, a letter from a Johnson County school district to local legislators has drawn scrutiny after it was posted online.

State Sen. Jeff Melcher, a Leawood Republican, uploaded the letter to his campaign’s website last week. The letter from Blue Valley Superintendent Todd White, dated June 28, thanked Melcher “for all of your work and effort during the legislative session.” In the last line of the letter, signed by White, it says, “We look forward to working with you again during the 2016-17 legislative session.”

The letter quickly gained traction on social media, and Blue Valley soon published a public apology in response to the online comments that those who received the letter could use it as an endorsement.

The letter was sent to every Johnson County legislator, according to the school district. Each seat in the Kansas House and Senate is up for election this fall. Rep. Rob Bruchman, an Overland Park Republican, also received the letter and posted it on his re-election campaign’s Facebook page.

Kristi McNerlin, executive communications director for the Blue Valley district, took the blame for the letter. It had been reviewed by three people, she said.

“It was an oversight,” she said. “I’ve been in school communications for 21 years. I just made a mistake.”

Asked if the letter was an endorsement, McNerlin said, “Absolutely not.”

“We made a mistake by not considering the political environment and elections around the corner,” she said. “There was never the intent to endorse.”

Lawmakers returned to Topeka last month and approved legislation designed to help equalize school funding between poorer and richer Kansas school districts.

The goal of the letter, McNerlin said, was to show Blue Valley’s appreciation for local legislators’ work during the June special session.

Overland Park City Councilman John Skubal, Melcher’s Aug. 2 primary opponent, said the timing of the letter was unfortunate. He doesn’t intend to make it a campaign issue, he said.

“It’s not coming back, you can’t take it back,” Skubal said. “It is what it is.”

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

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