News Story

School District’s Use Of Sign-Waving Children To Electioneer For Tax Hike Probably Not Illegal

District silent so far on whether teachers and students were taken out of class for this

Voters in rural Oceana County’s Shelby Public Schools, urged on by dozens of sign-waving elementary-aged schoolchildren, approved a $33 million property tax increase last week.

The measure will increase the district’s debt to build a new elementary school, add safety features and make other building improvements in the 1,200-student district. It passed by a margin of 58%-42%, with a voter turnout of about 25%, according to unofficial results.

A group backing the tax hike targeted voters with messages about the need to consolidate the district’s two elementary schools and address parking lot congestion. But also prominent on the group’s Facebook page — Yes For Shelby Public Schools — were photos of young children standing outside district buildings and bearing signs that read “It’s Our Turn” and “The Time is Now. Vote Yes!”

One resident of the district said that on Election Day, he witnessed a group of young children and adults standing near Thomas Read Elementary School, waving signs supporting a yes vote.

Arko den Engelse said he suspected the group was composed of teachers and students from the school, who should have been in class.

“If they are using teachers during school hours to bring children out to wave signs, I think that’s against the law,” den Engelse said.

He said he opposed the millage increase because “we’re spending so much on education already ... and the outcomes are not great.”

Public schools are prohibited from using taxpayer dollars to promote votes to increase property taxes, although they can provide voters with information about a proposal.

Eric Doster, a Lansing-area campaign finance attorney, said allowing district facilities to be used by a pro-millage group, such as the Facebook group, is permissible as long as access would have been open to opponents as well.

Taking children out of class to campaign for the proposal would not be OK, he said.

Neither Shelby Superintendent Tim Reeves nor the principal of Thomas Read Elementary responded to a request for comment.

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.