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0731, 02 Nov 16

School Districts Advocate for Referenda

Mark Belling takes this on in his column.

You wouldn’t know it if you lived in one of the many communities facing a school referendum, but there is a state law that prohibits school districts from spending any money urging voter approval of those referendums. Unethical school boards and superintendents, lusting for the tens of millions in referendum dollars, are brazenly violating the intent and spirit of the law with no shame. It’s bad enough when regular old politicians parse words to skate around the truth or go full Hillary Clinton and just lie, but it is deeply disappointing that the people who run our public schools are willing to behave so unscrupulously — publicly.

In the past, community groups that supported the referendum campaigns would raise money on their own (often with the support of the architects and engineers that would magically be hired to do the projects if the referendums passed), but those days are long gone. The school districts now take the money right out of their taxpayer-funded budgets. They justify this scandalous behavior by claiming they are merely providing “information” about the referendum and how the money is to be spent and not actually advocating a “yes” vote. It’s a distinction without a difference. And it’s a line that is being crossed.

He has numerous examples to support his point, and he’s right. This has been a growing trend. Rather than offering dispassionate information about a referendum, school administrators and school boards have taken to outright advocacy. While such advocacy is against state law, District Attorneys have been completely unwilling to prosecute anyone for it. I suspect that one or two DAs stepping forward to enforce the law would put a stop to such violations statewide.


0731, 02 November 2016


  1. jjf

    Well, if they’re not engaged in “express advocacy,” it must be OK, right?

  2. jsr

    I remember a school funding referendum where the district provided lists of things that would happen if the referendum passed or failed.  The Failed list included filling in the school pool so that the resulting area could be used as a classroom.  The Passed list did not include that the pool was going to be closed anyway.

    Not “express advocacy” but pretty bad anyway.

  3. jjf

    What would prevent (besides being impolitic) a school district from running the same sort of advocacy ad we see from other entities – “Call Senator Smith and ask him why he kicks puppies and defunds school districts.”

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