MI Districts’ Robocall Service Used In Political Campaign

Jack Spencer is reporting at Michigan Capitol Confidential that a school district in Michigan used its robocall service to encourage parents on how to vote

In the on-going struggle to find the appropriate level of involvement public school officials and educators should be playing in political campaigns, we have this story out of Michigan from reporter Jack Spencer at Capcon.  The story appears to be that a public school district in Michigan has used its phone alert system to point voters toward the recall effort against Gov. Rick Snyder (pictured left). In early June, shortly after the Snyder recall reached the petition-gathering phase, the alert system for Lawrence Public Schools sent out the following robocall to residents of the district:

“This is a message from the Lawrence Public Schools (inaudible) alert system. This is an informational item and not directly associated with the school. Concerned parents interested in cuts to education . . . we’re here to inform you that there is information about the problem. Also, be advised that there is a petition to recall Governor Snyder. If you want, stop by Chuck Moden’s house right by the school June 7th/8th between 3:30 and 4:00 pm. Thank you. Goodbye.”

The superintendent of the Lawrence Public Schools, John Overly, is chalking the whole thing up to a combination of a bad mistake and poor judgement.  The school alert system is used for special announcements, such as school closings due to snowfall, lock-downs or other school-related information. In such situations, the robocalls go out to “alert” residents of the district about a special circumstance that is taking place. Though it is uncertain without an official investigation, use of the system to advance a political endeavor, such as the Snyder recall, appears to have been a violation of the state’s campaign finance law.

“It will never happen again” Overley told Capitol Confidential today, referring to the alert that went out about the Snyder recall. “It will not be done again, ever.”

Capitol Confidential asked Overley if the use of the alert in connection with the recall had been a mistake.

“Yes, a big mistake,” Overley responded.

Capcon reports that individuals found guilty of violating Section 57 could face a fine of up to $20,000. However, one might reasonably ask to what extent the current law, and how it’s implemented, actually serves as a deterrent.  Those attempting to recall Snyder have the daunting task of trying to collect 806,522 valid signatures in just a few months. Logic dictates that fertile ground for at least starting to harvest the signatures would be in state’s K-12 community. With that in mind, the core question might be whether the possibility of getting caught and fined is likely to outweigh the opportunity of bringing in a lot of signatures.

Read the full report here.

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July 18th, 2011

Staff Reporter EducationNews.org

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