Ballot Proposals: School Boards Do's and Don'ts

Posted by: Peter Broderick on 9/20/2012

Note: This post was written by MASB Legal Counsel Brad Banasik and originally printed in Headlines, Aug. 7, 2012. See the full article here.

You’ve read a number of articles in Headlines regarding pending ballot initiatives that will impact schools and how you operate.

The Protect Our Jobs collective bargaining initiative, the Two/Thirds proposal and the Emergency Manager referendum would have severe financial implications for districts and all public employers, and it’s important that schools engage in this discussion locally. That engagement is governed by rules from the Secretary of State regarding a public entity’s involvement in ballot proposals.



Much like a local bond or millage campaign, schools can be involved, in a limited way, especially when it comes to finances. Superintendents and board members are citizens first and foremost, and can and should take positions or speak up on important issues, but also be very careful not to violate campaign laws.

Here’s a list of campaign law highlights you should consider as we head into this election season:

  • All information disseminated by a district relating to a ballot proposal must be factual without expressly advocating for or against the proposal if district funds are used.
  • Board members and school employees may engage in campaign activities which support or oppose a ballot proposal on their own time as long as district funds aren’t used.
  • A district may not give or loan paper, pencils, duplicating equipment, printing supplies and sundry items to a campaign committee supporting or opposing a ballot proposal.
  • Leasing school facilities, including office space or phones, to a community group supporting or opposing a ballot proposal for the purpose of contacting voters is prohibited.
  • The teachers’ lounge, school bulletin boards and other areas within a district building may not be used to disseminate literature supporting or opposing a ballot proposal even if it was printed by an outside organization.
  • A school district may not use public resources to create and maintain Internet links to websites, organizations, commentary or editorials that expressly support or oppose a ballot proposal if the district does so for the purpose of influencing the outcome of the proposal.
  • School buildings may be used for presentations supporting or opposing a ballot proposal after school hours pursuant to board policy. Care should be taken to ensure that facilities are equally available to both proponents and opponents and appropriate fees, if required by board policy, are administered consistently.
  • Board members and school employees may use their own materials to draft letters to the editor to express their opinions on a ballot proposal.
  • The occasional, incidental use of public resources by a superintendent to communicate his or her views on a ballot proposal to constituents or the media is permissible.
  • A school official is prohibited from sending a mass email or mailing that expressly advocates for or against a ballot proposal.
  • A school district may produce or disseminate debates, interviews, or commentary regarding a ballot proposal if it’s done in the regular course of broadcasting or publication (e.g., the normal, routine publication schedule of the broadcast or publication).
  • A school board may discuss its support of or opposition to a ballot proposal at an open meeting as well as adopt a resolution supporting or opposing the proposal and record the resolution in the meeting minutes. However, the use of public resources to distribute or publicize the resolution beyond the regular provision of factual information regarding actions taken by the board is prohibited.
  • Board members may wear T-shirts or buttons that support or oppose a ballot proposal at board meetings if not prohibited by policy. School employees may also wear these items at school if not prohibited by policy or the district’s collective bargaining agreement.
  • Unions and associations may communicate with their members about a ballot proposal by using school mailboxes provided that such communications are sent only to the collective bargaining representatives’ members.

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