West Ada trustee sent confidential personnel information in campaign email on school account

Carol Sayles, a West Ada School District trustee, used district computers to send election-eve emails endorsing a candidate in the May 19 trustee election.

The emails contained the name of an employee who left the district and the circumstances of that departure that should not have been made public, district officials said.

Sayles’ emails endorsed Julie Madsen, a physician running against Anne Ritter, who was seeking her fifth term as a trustee. Madsen defeated Ritter 522 to 385.

“The complexion of the board can change if we elect new members to the school board,” Sayles wrote.

The Idaho Statesman obtained 43 nearly identical Sayles emails through an open records request. The district followed a lawyer’s advice and redacted the name of the employee on the emails, and then rejected a Statesman request to reconsider releasing the name on grounds that Sayles had already disseminated the emails widely.

“It was incorrect to release it in the first place, so it would still be incorrect,” district spokesman Eric Exline said. The email “discusses how the employee’s term of work ended, which is information that is protected.”

West Ada’s attorney recommended redacting the name because “the district needs to reduce giving the employee a legitimate reason to file suit," Exline added.

Superintendent Linda Clark has asked the district’s lawyer to determine if Sayles’ emails broke any laws or district policies. Mike Vuittonet, West Ada’s board chairman, directed Clark to seek the opinion after the Statesman’s request.

Vuittonet said he wants to know if the emails contain any information taken from executive sessions. He also wants to know if the emails violate a policy that prohibits using district computers for political purposes. If the lawyer finds any problems, Vuittonet said, he wants to know how the board should proceed. “I want to be fair to everybody.”

Sayles said she did not take the information about the employee from executive sessions. She would not comment on whether the emails violate a policy prohibiting political information being published on school computers, saying she is not closely familiar with the policy. She has served on the board since 2013.

Madsen did not know the email was sent, Sayles said. Sayles could not be reached when the Statesman sought a follow-up comment about whether she was wrong to release the employee’s name. Madsen did not return a phone call.

A district policy says the email system may not be used to “solicit or proselytize for commercial ventures, religious or political causes, outside organizations, or other non-job-related solicitations.” Employees who violate the email policy may be disciplined or fired, the policy says.

Clark said she doesn’t remember another case of this kind involving a trustee. “What is the responsibility of the board in cases where a member has done something like this?” she asked.

Sayles told the Statesman she was only encouraging people to vote. She said her emails were in response to ones she had received from people in support of the employee. She said she used the name in the emails to refer to emails she had initially received that contained the name.

“They were upset, and I was trying to reassure them that their vote mattered,” she said. “In hindsight, I guess I should have... emailed from my home email or private hub like Hillary did.”

Sayles’ email suggested how the board would vote on the employee’s termination. “The current board’s voting record is only favorable to the district office, and not towards teachers,” she wrote. “I am currently a teacher, and Tina Dean (another board member) is a former teacher. It would have been a 3-2 vote against (blank).”

She told The Statesman that such a vote was simply a possible outcome, and that a vote never took place.

Sayles is a second-grade teacher at Purple Sage Elementary School in the Middleton School District.

Sayles has taught in Middleton for 15 years. She serves on a committee of the state teacher’s union that was working in May to get more public education-friendly trustees elected to school boards.

She worked in support of three teachers and another candidate running for trustee seats in Nampa, Caldwell and Middleton. Three were elected. A fourth, Toni Waters in Caldwell, lost by four votes to Thomas Britten, 108-104. Waters has gone to court to challenge the election results.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408; Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts