There’s a chance you might see fewer of those “newsletters” that school boards send to taxpayers when they’re trying to get voter approval for an increase in school spending.
School boards can spend money to inform voters about issues, but it’s a fine line between providing information and politicking. Today, the Minnesota Court of Appeals sided with a complaint from the mayor of Tower, Minnesota, that the St. Louis County School Board crossed the line in 2009 when it distributed newsletters about an upcoming bond referendum.
The newsletters contained assertions, such as this:
If residents vote no, their taxes will most likely still increase — in some cases, by a large amount. That’s because if the plan is not approved, the school district would enter into “statutory operating debt” by June 2011, which means the State of Minnesota recognizes that the school district can no longer balance its expenditures and revenues, and would need to dissolve. Children in this school district would then go to neighboring school districts.
The Appeals Court backed a voters group, which asserted the school board intentionally distributed statements in its “educational material” that it knew were false.
The court also ruled that a school board and its members constitute “a committee,” and are required to reveal political disbursements under the state’s campaign finance laws. It also ruled that using taxpayer money to campaign for passage of a referendum was not authorized.
The $78.8 million referendum passed on a 51-to-49 percent vote. It authorized spending the money on two new schools, the remodeling of the Cherry and Babbitt-Embarrass schools and changing the Tower-Soudan School to K-6.