Court: School board shouldn’t have spent money campaigning for referendum passage

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.

In making its ruling today — a full copy of which is here — the Court of Appeals overturned an administrative law judge (the original ruling is here).

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.

  • Jenifer Krummi

    Funny thing…we told the School Board that they were breaking the rules to no avail. Now the taxpayers have to pay for their blunder for the next 20 years, the kids now have to be bused 35 miles ONE WAY to school from Tower and the community will suffer because what family will move into a town where by grade 7, your child will be bused out of town for school? Shame on the moraless individuals that made up the School Board! Shame!

  • Jutta Karin Schultz

    Sorry to have to inform you of this Jennifer, but the Orr school has been bussing a large group of its students 35 miles one way for years….kids will do just fine being bussed that far….so this is a non issue to the Orr school kids….why was no one screaming about how far they had to go all those years before this happened? Come on….get a clue….it will be just fine, and something HAD to be done….and this was it….

  • Amousebeausia

    Hey there