Mustang Public Schools is being questioned on whether it crossed the line by endorsing one of its own on the district’s website last week.
Superintendent Sean McDaniel expressed his “full support” for longtime Mustang High School teacher Mike Mason in a press release submitted to local newspapers and posted on the school district’s website.
Mason is a candidate for the State Senate District 45 seat, running against fellow Republicans Kyle Loveless and Houston Wells, both of Oklahoma City. They are slated to face off in Tuesday’s primary election.
According to state Ethics Commission Rules, state employees are prohibited from influencing elections during work hours. The state also prohibits state employees from using state-owned equipment to advocate for candidates.
However, Lee Slater, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said these rules do not apply to school districts.
“We have no jurisdiction over school districts,” Slater said. “We are limited to state officers and state employees. Whether there are other laws that have been violated or not, I do not know.”
Assistant District Attorney Paul Hesse said he had not been provided any information that would result in criminal prosecution. He said he was not aware of anyone other than McDaniel contacting his office regarding the matter.
‘I made a mistake’
McDaniel said he takes full responsibility for the action. The superintendent said as soon as it was brought to his attention that some questioned the website endorsement, the district removed it.
McDaniel said he self-reported to both the DA’s office and state Ethics Commission.
“I did not pay close enough attention and nothing is posted to the website without me reviewing it first,” he said.
The superintendent said he understands how some might question the district’s actions. He said the district frequently highlights school staff and students on the website and that was the case with Mason.
McDaniel said he is “very proud” of Mason filing for office.
“He is a fantastic educator, influences students daily and is willing to give up his teaching position. We need someone like him right now.”
Mason said he was unaware of the situation.
“I am sorry it occurred,” Mason said. “I still appreciate Dr. McDaniel but I’m sorry it was done.”
Loveless, the incumbent in the race, said he did not file a complaint, but he is “troubled” by the superintendent’s action.
“We need to be sure scarce resources of our education is going to educating our children, not paying staff to write a press release, post it online and send it to the media on behalf of a political campaign,” Loveless said.
Wells, the remaining Republican candidate, could not be reached for comment.
Mustang School Board president Chad Fulton did not return phone calls. Board member Jeff Landrith said the board had not discussed or taken action concerning an endorsement for the political seat.