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Albemarle County school officials deny campaign paid for planned town hall

Albemarle County Public Schools officials are denying suggestions that there was anything inappropriate about an advertisement for an upcoming town hall with School Board Chair Katrina Callsen – who is also a candidate for the House of Delegates’ 54th District seat.

A saved screenshot of the advertisement contains the text “paid for by Katrina Callsen for Delegate,” leading some online to suggest the school board event was being billed as a campaign event.

“I am not paying for the event,” Callsen told The Daily Progress on Friday. “What my staff did was boost all of my events … on my Facebook page.”

Boosting a post on Facebook costs money, which was why Callsen said she had to disclaim that her campaign paid for the advertisement.

Albemarle County schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said the school division was paying for the town hall.

“It’s paid for by the school division because it’s community outreach,” Giaramita told The Daily Progress.

The school board town hall was originally listed as an event on Callsen’s campaign website, but has since been taken down.

“It shouldn’t have been, but it was listed as a campaign event,” Giaramita said. “I think it just got listed because it was one of her meetings.”

Callsen’s town hall is part of a series that the school board is hosting. School board members Judy Le and Graham Paige have already had their own town halls, which Giaramita described as an opportunity for the school community to air their concerns.

“It’s so they could improve their connections to the community,” Giaramita said.

Callsen and Giaramita said the school division is using a number of means – including emails, social media and robocalls – to promote the event and increase participation.

“We’ve had them in the past where two people would come,” Callsen said.

Mary McIntyre, vice president of the Albemarle Education Association teachers union, took to Twitter on Thursday night to express her confusion as to the nature of the event and the means of advertising it.

McIntyre said she and others, some who live outside of Callsen’s school board magisterial district – but within the House district she’s campaigning in – received emails and robocalls advertising the event.

“The thing is – this town hall has been listed on her campaign website for a while. This certainly looks like a campaign event,” McIntyre tweeted in a thread of posts liked and shared by dozens of users. “Are the school division’s mailing lists, phone lists, and email lists being used for campaign purposes?”

Callsen said the answer is no and emphasized that she had done nothing wrong.

“I’m allowed to tell people that I’m going to be at a public event,” Callsen said.

Callsen is running against fellow Democrats former Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris and former Police Civilian Oversight Board Member Bellamy Brown for the 54th District House seat this year.

The Democratic primary will be on June 20. The general election will be held Nov. 7.


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