News Story

Districts Use Taxpayer Resources To Oppose Education Bills

Using public money for political advocacy

Michelle Nellis-Kinney said she believed the Adrian Public School’s AlertNow system was used to contact her in case of a school emergency or scheduling change.

She isn’t happy it was being used by the district’s superintendent to try to get her to help defeat a package of education reform bills.

Superintendent Chris Timmis sent the letter Dec. 2 asking parents to contact their legislators and oppose House Bills 5923 and 6004, and Senate Bill 1358. The bills are being considered by legislators and would, among other things, allow parents to pick what school districts for their children to enroll in if the district allowed outside enrollment. The per-pupil state money would follow the student to whatever district they enrolled.

The district is allowed to do it under state law, but Kinney felt it was still an abuse of power.

"I find this email insulting and a bold misuse of your office and I would hope that in the future, this type of scare tactic will never be sent from your office," Kinney wrote to Timmis in an email. "If you wish for parents to know of upcoming issues then any correspondence needs to be fair and balanced and not the work of one-sided educators with a glaring political agenda."

Timmis said the package of bills have an impact on the community. He said the parents elect a school board that selects a superintendent to do what is in the best interests of the district. He said he felt comfortable urging parents to contact legislators and ask them not to support the bills.

"As a community, that is not a bill that is good for our school district or our kids," Timmis said.

Timmis was far from alone in using his school website and emails to urge parents to oppose the legislation.

Several districts from around the state also have written to parents about the bills.

Michigan Republican Party General Counsel Eric Doster said urging parents to tell legislators to not support the package of bills was not a violation of the state's campaign finance act but Doster said the school district was not proper to use taxpayer resources to promote a political agenda.

The state's campaign finance act law prevents school districts from “expressing advocacy” during an election, such as a school bond or for a political candidate.

"It's wrong,” Doster said. "Why is it wrong? A taxpayer shouldn't have to pay to hear a political viewpoint he or she may not agree with. Government doesn't have a First Amendment right to engage in political campaign speech of lobbying activity. Not everyone who paid for that speech agrees with it.”

Bloomfield Hills Public Schools Superintendent Rob Glass asked parents to oppose a series of public school reform bills in an “urgent call to action” posted on the district’s website.

Glass didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Glass asked parents to "call and e-mail your legislator and respectfully ask them to OPPOSE these bills …" Later, Glass asked parents to "enlist ten others to do the same."

South Lake Schools sent out a form letter for parents to send to legislators urging opposition to the bills. Chelsea School District also wants legislators to vote "no." Other districts have sent out letters with similar language.


See also:

Superintendent Uses School Email List For Politics

School 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