According to Kettering’s School Superintendent, Jim Schoenlein, in his memo to the Kettering School Board, in previous levy campaigns, Kettering school officials did not address school gatherings and events to build levy support. Schoenlein says he is changing this policy and in this new 6.9 mill levy campaign, Schoenlein, and other school officials, “have been stepping up at meetings, gatherings, and events to say a few words about the levy.”

In his notes to the Kettering School Board, Schoenlein lists all of the school meetings between now and the May 4 election (see page 5), and indicates that because of multiple events “we will have to divide up to cover everything.”

It would be inappropriate and seemingly unlawful for school officials to take advantage of a school gathering to advocate for the election of a specific candidate, Republican or Democrat. And, I’ve never heard that such candidate advocacy ever happens at school meetings. But it also seems inappropriate for school officials to take advantage of a school gathering to advocate for the passing of a specific ballot issue. Doesn’t such advocacy violate the rules that govern non-profits, such as schools and churches?

What if a community member in attendance of such school gatherings wanted to use the opportunity to address the assembled Kettering parents with reasons why a “No” vote on the levy should be considered? At public meetings of non-profit organizations, shouldn’t both sides of an issue be given equal time?

Similarly, I’m interested that Kettering Schools’ publication, “The Blue Ribbon Report,” paid for with school tax money, in this Spring, 2010, issue, uses about half of the copy space in promoting the levy. There is much pertinent information that is omitted and only a pro-levy position is presented. It hardly seems right that tax money should be spent on one-sided levy advocacy.

In his memo to the board, the first topic Schoenlein addresses is the “Levy Update.” He praises three full time school employees working in the “public relations” office for their fine work creating a levy web-site. Using tax money to pay for work done to promote a ballot issue must be unlawful. There was no indication in the superintendent’s memo that the pro-levy work of these three employees happened after their regular working hours.

The Kettering levy campaign is impressive (see page 4), and has all the indications of a professionally organized effort. Since schools are continually involved in levy campaigns they have a lot of practice. The plans call for:

  • yard signs
  • field signs
  • parent newsletters
  • neighborhood walks
  • levy brochure to all registered voters
  • levy packets to all absentee voters
  • three different full color postcards sent
  • neighborhood levy coffee gatherings
  • a “Turn Out Seniors” project
  • employee fundraising
  • vendor fundraising
  • letters to the editor
  • newspaper ads
  • levy message on all school marquees
  • get-out-the-vote calling project

In previous campaigns, Citizens for Kettering Schools usually spend over $15,000 in a given campaign. The effort seems mostly funded by individual contributions from Kettering school employees — from money regularly withheld from the employees’ checks. According to the DDN, $9,133.70 was shown raised in this last report to the Board of Elections.

School employees, along with school vendors, represent a special interest in our community of individuals directly financially benefiting from Kettering Schools, and, it makes sense that this special interest seeks to assure a generous income continues to flow to the school system. After all 86% of all school expenditures goes to school personnel. As it stands, the 6.9 mill levy request is based on a five year projection that shows increases in personnel pay of 4.82% per year. A contribution to the levy campaign, from a school employee’s point of view, is a good investment.

But it seems unfair, and, I wonder if it is lawful, for Kettering schools to use school gatherings and school property, such as school marquees, to give one-sided advocacy of the 6.9 mill levy. It also seems unfair, and, I also wonder if it is lawful, that Citizens for Kettering Schools, a Political Action Committee, does not pay sales tax on items it purchases.

The bigger question is: what is the long term strategy in Kettering to build a great public education system? A school special interest v community strategy cannot work in the long run to build a great system.