Although some public schools boast of their diverse educational opportunities, when it comes to coaxing more dollars from voters, many appear to be using the same playbook. Several school districts looking for tens of millions in borrowed dollars during February bond elections have very similar “needs” when describing to voters what the money will be used for.

Comstock Park Public Schools in Kent County wants a $21.5 million school bond and its ballot language says the money will be used as follows: “Erecting, furnishing and equipping additions to, and partially remodeling, furnishing and refurnishing, equipping and reequipping school facilities; acquiring, installing and equipping instructional technology for school facilities; constructing, equipping, developing and improving physical, education/athletic facilities, playgrounds and play fields; purchasing school buses; and developing and improving sites.”

In Saline, the school district is looking for a $22 million school bond that according to the ballot language will be used as follows: “Remodeling, furnishing and refurnishing, and equipping and re-equipping school buildings; acquiring and installing educational technology in school buildings; acquiring school buses; and developing and improving playgrounds and sites.”

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Sound familiar?

How about, Eaton Rapids, which is looking for a $25 million school bond. Its ballot language reads: “Erecting, furnishing and equipping additions to and remodeling, furnishing and refurnishing, and equipping and re-equipping existing school buildings; acquiring and installing educational technology in school buildings; purchasing school buses; erecting, furnishing and equipping improvements to athletic facilities, athletic fields and playgrounds; and developing and improving sites.”

Jack McHugh, senior legislative analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said these schools are trying to get around Proposal A, which prevents local school millages from paying for operating expenses.

“They are using ‘tested language’ to commit fiscal malpractice, borrowing long to purchase short lived assets,” McHugh said. “Buying a new computer is not a capital investment, it is an expense. Buying furniture is not a capital investment. It is an expense. They’ve crafted and refined the language based on experience around the state of what works to get the handful of voters who turn out in mid-winter elections to vote ‘Yes. ‘ ”

Saline Area Schools Superintendent Scot Graden wrote in an e-mail that the ballot language was developed by their district’s law firm.

“The basic tenets of the ballot language was pulled from our bond application to the State of Michigan,” Graden wrote in an e-mail.  “I am not sure about the other districts, but since many districts are looking to address HVAC issues, lighting issues, site work, etc.  I would expect some similarity. “

Comstock Park Public Schools Superintendent Ethan Ebenstein didn’t return an e-mail seeking comment.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Comstock Park Public Schools as Comstock Public Schools. It has been corrected.


See also:

Magic Words’ Not Enough to Get Berkley Schools’ in Election Law Hot Water

State rules that favorable statements from schools about ballot proposals do not break election law by expressly advocating for 'yes' votes

Schools That Break State Election Laws Face Just "Speeding Ticket" Fines

Supreme Court Okays Using Public Schools for Political Fundraising

School Advocacy in Bond Elections Questioned

School District Defends Its Neutrality in State House Race

Kent ISD Resources Used to Promote a 'Reception' for Democrat Congressional Candidate

School District Resources Used for Candidate Campaign Announcement 

Using Your Money to Get Your Money

Using Taxes To Lobby for Taxes


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Ted Nelson is a retired Michigan State Police officer who trained police departments throughout the state on civil asset forfeiture. He believes the practice has been misused and needs to change.

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