News Story

School Advocacy in Bond Elections Questioned

Two school districts could have been in violation of state law by using school resources to promote their funding proposals.

The Lansing School District released a flier promoting its bond that asked residents to vote and added a promotional slogan: "Preserve Our Heritage. Fund Our Future." Lake Orion School District had an internal e-mail sent out asking for volunteers to make phone calls about the bond.

A Lansing School District spokesman defended the flier, saying encouragement to "Fund Our Future" was just a slogan.

An attorney representing the Lake Orion district said the school was "headed down the wrong path" with its e-mail.

"We stopped it very quickly," said Jim Crowley, an attorney representing Lake Orion School District. Crowley said a committee to set up passing the bond was formed that didn't involve any school resources.

There have been numerous reports this election campaign season regarding school districts crossing the campaign finance laws that forbid schools from using school resources to promote a candidate or a funding issue.

The Lansing flier had statements that the sinking fund would contribute "to a more nurturing learning environment for our kids" and that the fund would be created by "a slight" millage increase.

Bob LaBrant, Senior Vice President for Political Affairs and General Counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, took exception to the terms "Fund Our Future."

"That is about as close to coming to a 'Yes' vote as you are going to find," LaBrant said. "If you don't have the toe over the line, it's millimeters away from touching it."

Steve Serkaian, spokesman for the Lansing School District, said the school was only encouraging residents to vote on the sinking fund and not advocating a "Yes" vote.

As for, "Fund Our Future", Serkaian said, "It's just a slogan."

"We designed these pieces to communicate factually what we believe to be the essence of this proposal and rely on the citizens of Lansing to make their own judgment," Serkaian said.

At Lake Orion, the e-mail was sent by a teacher using her school e-mail and stated they were looking for parent volunteers for the bond to be voted on in February of 2011. An attached document further explained: "We need help from each of our classrooms throughout the district. I am in need of two volunteers in our classroom to be in charge of making phone calls in regard to the bond."

Eric Doster, the general counsel for the state Republican party, said it was obvious the school was recruiting volunteers in favor of the bond.

"If you call them and say, 'I'm against the bond,' they'll say, 'Thank you and have a nice day,' " Doster said. "It is school resources that is recruiting volunteers to pass a bond proposal. That is exactly what they are doing."


Editor: This story originally reported incorrectly the Lake Orion school bond would be voted upon Nov. 2. The bond is to be voted on in February, 2011. The story has been corrected.

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.