Minnestota high court says schools must report spending

/ 10 August 2012 / eunice

Associated Press (Pioneer Press), August 10, 2012 – The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Friday that school districts must register and report campaign spending related to ballot questions.

The ruling stems from a 2010 complaint against the St. Louis County School District. Steve Abrahamson, the mayor of Tower, and Tom Kotzian, a community education activist, maintained that district leaders and school board members violated state campaign laws by using public funds to promote the passage of a school building bond referendum and not reporting it to the state as campaign spending.

State law holds that schools can print neutral materials with information related to bond referendums, but cannot advocate their passage or defeat. An administrative law judge initially dismissed the complaint, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that decision was erroneous.

In the court ruling, Justice Alan Page wrote that there’s nothing in state law to indicate the Legislature intended to exempt school districts from campaign reporting requirements. And if it had, “it could have done so explicitly,” Page wrote.

The court’s ruling also sent the case back to an administrative law judge to decide whether the district used public funds to improperly promote passage of the referendum, as complainants alleged. Justice David Stras dissented from Page’s opinion in that regard, arguing that certain materials distributed by the St. Louis County School District did appear to promote passage of the ballot question and thus were obviously in violation of state law.

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