News Story

School District Defends Its Neutrality in State House Race

The Northville Public School District issued a press release about a Republican Party campaign flier, calling it "false and reprehensible" because it claimed that a candidate benefitted from the use of school district resources in her campaign.

The issue stems from a press release Northville School District posted on its web site in February. That release announced School Board Member Joan Wadsworth's decision to run for the 20th district seat in the state's House of Representatives.  School officials stated the reason for the posting was that Wadsworth would not be leaving the school board.

The February link was under the heading "District News." It read: "Wadsworth Launches Campaign." The announcement was written on Northville Public Schools letterhead. After a call from Michigan Capitol Confidential, it was taken down voluntarily by the district.

A complaint was filed because state law says schools must not promote political candidates. The Secretary of State determined that there had been no improper use of district resources and dismissed the complaint. When reached, the Secretary of State wouldn't comment on whether posting the press release was appropriate albeit legal.

However, in October a GOP flier stated Wadsworth had illegally used public school resources for her campaign.

The district did post its reaction to the GOP ad and the Secretary of State's July 12 letter to the school district on its web site. The letter states that the Department of State found the Feb. 17, 2010 "press release" did not contain words of "express advocacy."

But the letter continues: "Nonetheless, the overall message of the press release combined with the use of the terms 'launches campaign' certainly could sow confusion to create the impression that Ms. Wadsworth may be the Northville School District's preferred candidate."

The letter then talks about the significance of "government neutrality" and ends with an acknowledgment that the district removed the press release from its web site. "As such, any possibility for confusion has been eliminated. The Department now considers this matter closed."

At the time it was discovered, Mackinac Center for Public Policy Senior Legal Analyst Patrick Wright said a quote from Wadsworth in the press release that talked about her ability to make "positive contributions" as a member of the House of Representatives  made it a campaign document.

Mike Zopf, the assistant superintendent of finance and operations for Northville Public School District, didn't return a message left at his office.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.