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When a school system campaigns for a sales tax referendum in an upcoming election, is this overstepping North Carolina law, which ensures “that public funds are not used for political or partisan activities?”
On the ballot in Guilford County is a proposal for a ¼ cent tax increase of the sales tax. The tax goes into the general funds of the county, and cannot be earmarked for the schools. But some commissioners have “promised” to use the funds raised by this tax for the schools even though there is no guarantee that will happen.
The Guilford County School System has engaged in an all-out promotion in favor of voting for the tax increase including pages on the GCSS main website, printable fliers encouraging distribution, the partnering with Boy Scouts of America to spread the word through their channels, a Robocall by a local high school, and videos by various principals.
All this came to my attention when a friend of mine contacted me asking if the schools should be sending out fliers promoting the tax increase, as their child had brought one home. “No!” I said, “not at taxpayers’ expense.”
I then received a copy of an email sent from the Boy Scouts promoting the tax increase at the behest of the schools. Inside the communication was this: “With so much of our membership coming through the school system and our relationship with Guilford County Schools, we obliged them by sending this out to our membership in Akela and Guilford Districts.”
Included in the Boy Scouts’ email was a link for the Guilford County School System (GCSS) page with fact sheets on the tax, which can be found here.
In addition, the email pointed to a website set up by a coalition pushing the referendum. This website doesn’t name the GCSS as being involved although the talking points are almost identical to those on the school’s main pages.
Not only this, the websites encourage the downloading and distribution of fliers advocating for the tax increase.
Then another individual sent me a robocall [listen in here] from his student’s high school encouraging the parents to vote on the tax increase, and what it would mean to the school in regards to money. They informed the parents if they were not registered to vote they could pick up voter registration forms at the “Front Office,” ending the call with a cheer for the school’s mascot.
On Thursday, Oct. 9, I filed a formal complaint with the NC State Board of Elections.
High Point Enterprise, a local paper, interviewed me on the issue and also obtained statements from Guilford County Schools spokeswoman Cynthia Shah-Khan. From the HPE:
“In doing so, Guilford County Schools has been careful only to encourage people to vote, Shah-Khan said. “They’re informational,” she said of the videos recorded by GCSTV. “They do not tell people how to vote.” The same is true, she said, for the Web pages built by the district relations staff and the fliers sent home with students. School principals, if they wished, could request the fliers, which were printed at the GCS Print Shop […]
Shah-Khan said she did not have information as to how much time was spent by personnel on building the site or recording and editing the videos.
This response shows that the GCSS printed and distributed fliers using school funds, shot videos, designed web pages, and recorded Robocalls promoting a tax increase on the citizens of Guilford County.
I will now be requesting a Freedom of Information Act request for all emails, written communication and or voice messages pertaining to the ¼ cent sales tax from the Guilford County Schools. This should give taxpayers a look inside at the coordinated effort to promote a tax using their tax dollars.
These actions seem to be in conflict with House Bill 818 concerning electioneering by county employees as well as the Guilford County School system’s own procedures.
From Guilford County:
Teachers and students may study political campaigns, the democratic party system, and the analysis of political issues through classroom instruction and through school activities or events. Central office administrators, central office staff members, school administrators, school faculty, or school staff members shall not use their positions to promote political candidates or partisan political issues or activities on Guilford County Schools school grounds, facilities, or property during school hours, after school during school sponsored events or activities, or during official business hours of operation.
As you can see, the Guilford County Schools are using citizens’ tax money to promote “partisan political issues.” Is this fair? Or is this standard practice in North Carolina?
The citizens of the State of North Carolina need to have the confidence that their taxes are not being used by governmental entities in violation of state statutes.
Video from GCS.
Featured image from Shutterstock
Tags: 2014 election, ballot referendum, Guilford County Schools, North Carolina, Quarter cent tax
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