san antonio – Late last month, Northeast Independent School District’s divided board of trustees met with the top four candidates to replace the late Terry Williams as single-member district District 2 trustee.
Williams passed away in August after a long illness. The race to fill Williams’ seat has left the NEISD board in limbo as her trustees bicker in public meetings over who should fill Williams’ seat.
Three trustees, Steve Hilliard, Marcia Landry and Diane Villarreal, have announced their support for Jacqueline Klein, who lost to Williams by fewer than 75 votes in the May 2022 election. did.
However, a candidate must receive at least four votes for the appointment to take effect.
On Oct. 27, five separate motions to appoint one of the four finalists or place the spot on next year’s ballot all failed.
Campaign finance reports obtained by KSAT Investigators from the Texas Ethics Commission show that Hilliard, Landry, Villarreal and Klein all work for a social conservative political action committee called Parents United for Freedom. (PAC) was found to be involved.
“Parents United for Freedom” uses the acronym PUFF. I will advertise that It is a “bipartisan, grassroots effort” that will protect parents’ rights in schools and “combat indoctrination in the classroom.”
PUFF’s website does not list NEISD by name, but KSAT could find no record of PAC attempting to exert influence in other San Antonio-area school districts.
Last year, the PAC spent thousands of dollars on block walking, texting services and radio ads to beef up Landry, Villarreal and Klein’s respective campaigns.
TEC records show each candidate also received $500 in contributions from the PAC in the weeks before the May 2022 election.
Mr. Landry and Mr. Villarreal were ultimately elected to the board, but Mr. Klein fell just short.
In a public interview on Oct. 23, Klein scolded Trustee David Beyer for asking whether he solicited money from PUFF before last year’s election.
“As for your claim that I solicited anything from any organization, that’s false. You need to know,” Klein said. Klein also denied in the interview that she, Landry and Villarreal ran as her candidates.
PUFF’s financial support for Klein’s campaign, which also included two months’ worth of website payments, totaled $6,775.32, a significant amount of funding for the school board race.
Immediately after Mr. Klein’s interview, during a brief break in the meeting, KSAT attempted to ask Mr. Klein about his relationship with PUFF.
“So, can you clarify whether you took their money but didn’t ask for money from them?” a KSAT reporter asked Klein.
“Do you understand politics? Obviously you don’t,” Klein said as he walked away.
But PUFF’s relationship with NEISD goes far beyond the three school board candidates the PAC supported last year.
Crystal Keene, the wife of a convicted Capitol rioter, was appointed as PUFF’s assistant campaign finance treasurer in February 2022, according to TEC records.
Mr. Keene also donates to the PAC and is named as a decision maker for both donations and spending for PUFF.
Mr. Keene was selected by Mr. Landry to serve on NEISD’s School Health Advisory Committee earlier this year. Keene currently serves on the city council’s nutrition committee, according to NEISD records.
Mr. Landry and Mr. Keene did not respond to email requests for interviews about their relationship with PUFF.
Ashley S. Bloom, another contributing and spending decision maker at PUFF, is Brandon Bloom’s wife, according to public records.
Records show Brandon Bloom was one of Hilliard’s appointees to SHAC and currently serves on the Safe and Healthy Schools Committee.
Additionally, Hilliard’s wife, Paula, donated $200 to PUFF in March 2022, TEC records show.
PUFF-listed campaign finance director Melanie Hutzler did not respond to calls or text messages seeking comment for this article.
“We’ve seen more and more political interest in school boards across the country, and it’s happened here in Texas as well. North Texas in particular has been a hotbed for this type of activity. ” Patrick Svitekchief political correspondent for the Texas Tribune.
“There’s been this kind of perfect storm going on over the last few years, primarily on the political right, around school board issues,” Svitek added.
An argument breaks out between the trustees during questioning of Mr. Klein.
The board’s public interview with Klein sparked controversy shortly after Trustee Sandy Huey questioned Klein’s relationship with Moms for Liberty. An activist group claims that We advocate for parental rights at all levels of government.
Klein has posted a photo on social media wearing a nametag identifying her as president of the Bexar County Mamas for Liberty chapter, and is listed as one of the administrators of the local chapter’s Facebook page. There is.
The national group is The label was applied this summer. The SPLC says Mamas for Liberty is “using multiple social media platforms to target teachers and school officials, advocate for the abolition of the Department of Education, and promote and spread conspiracy propaganda.” It was later identified as an “extremist group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Hateful images and rhetoric against the LGBTQ community. ”
Indiana Chapter of Moms for Liberty I apologized this summer. After quoting Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in his inaugural newsletter.
During the interview, Huey asked Klein about her political affiliation with Mamas for Liberty, which she said was defined as a “hate group.”
After the meeting, a clip of the exchange gained a lot of attention on social media, leading to a heated argument between Huey and Villarreal at the next board meeting a few days later.
Villarreal briefly doubted Huey’s suitability to vote in the upcoming trustee appointment process. Huey then questioned whether the board had gathered to support someone for the vacant seat or to engage in personal attacks against his fellow trustees.
When KSAT called Villarreal’s public phone number last month, a woman who answered the phone hung up when a KSAT reporter identified herself.
Klein’s past social media posts and comments have included calls for NEISD Board President Shannon Grona to be removed and to be “shown the door” to the entire board, with whom she will now be working. This seems to have angered several board members who want to do so.
At one point during the board interview, Klein denied that he had “cleaned up” his social media before applying for the vacant trustee position.
“I feel like I hear everyone else talking about politics, but I’m focused on student success,” Klein said.
KSAT’s investigation last month revealed that Klein is being sued by NEISD for failing to pay property taxes in 2019 and 2020.
Klein told KSAT in a text message that her taxes are “100% paid.”
Bexar County court records show she was successfully admitted to the case on Oct. 31, and the case is pending.
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