News Story

Parents Blast District For Using Emergency Contact Info To Push Tax Vote

Bait and switch? District makes robocalls on election day

Some parents in the Chippewa Valley Schools district are upset about the district calling their cell phones on Tuesday, which was election day for a district tax hike proposal. Some residents received several robocalls urging them to vote.

Parents complained in social media about the last-minute campaigning, and some also wondered if the district provided their personal contact information to a private group formed to promote borrowing and the tax hike to pay for it.

Voters rejected Chippewa Valley Schools’ $89.9 million bond proposal on Tuesday by a 8,128-5,753 vote.

Chippewa Valley parent Rob Montilla said he was upset that the district was pushing information about the tax hike “through communication channels for which they collected personal contact information for school and emergency use only.”

“Their message is clearly pushing for a ‘yes’ vote without explicitly saying ‘Vote yes.’ They are using our children as props to push their agenda and have violated our trust by using information, shared with them privately, for purposes other than intended,” Montilla said in a message.

Montilla said he received “get out the vote” robocalls Monday with the voice of superintendent, Ron Roberts. And the day of the election itself, he received robocalls just minutes apart from the principals of two of the district’s schools.

The robocalls urged residents to vote and directed them to a district website promoting the higher property tax.

Roberts didn't return an email seeking comment.

School districts often only tell one side of the financial story and provide incomplete financial information when they talk about votes on school bonds.

Chippewa Valley Schools’ website says: “Chippewa Valley Schools is fiscally responsible! CVS is Michigan’s largest, lowest funded school district, yet CVS spends more on classroom instruction and less on administrative and operational costs than most Michigan school districts.”

The claim that Chippewa Valley is the “lowest funded school district” apparently refers to its “foundation allowance” in the state’s school funding formula. The allowance is a complicated blend of state and local dollars that accounts for 75 to 85 percent of the funding a school district receives.

Chippewa Valley’s foundation allowance is $7,511 per pupil this year, which is the same as 22 other Macomb County school districts. It can be argued to have the lowest allowance only because some districts — 16 in the county — have higher ones. For example, East Detroit Public Schools gets $7,820 per pupil through its foundation allowance. However, when only state revenue streams are calculated, Chippewa Valley actually received more than East Detroit: $7,744 per pupil versus $7,607.

Superintendent Roberts also used Twitter to promote a “yes” vote on the bond. He tweeted: “Here are four reasons to vote ‘yes’ on the bond next Tuesday.” Roberts included a picture of four children of elementary-school age.

Grace Caporuscio said she received an email at 5:40 p.m. from the superintendent, through the district email server. The election-day message warned parents that someone who opposed the tax increase was contacting local residents.

“We have received a number of calls from parents and staff members who have been receiving automated calls and text messages from an individual outside of our school community,” the email read. “This individual is trying to influence the outcome of today’s school election. I am sorry if you have received one of those messages but I want you to know that you can trust the information the school district has provided.”

“Please understand,” Roberts continued, “that school districts are required by law to be truthful and provide factual information on all financial issues.”

State Rep. Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township, said in a message that she was contacted to find out if state law allowed school districts to provide a resident’s contact information to independent parental groups. Some Chippewa Valley parents report that they received letters at their home residence from an organization that supported the bond.