School district asking voters for money, not allowed to say much more

By TEREASA NIMS
Sunday Times Newspapers

RIVERVIEW — Riverview Community Schools is asking voters for 18 mills to fund 8 percent of its $25 million budget March 8, but gag order legislation prevents school officials from saying much more.

Supt. Russell Pickell read the ballot language at a Jan. 26 school board meeting for the March 8 election.
The language is:

Shall the limitation on the total amount of taxes which may be assessed against all property, except principal residence and other property exempted by law, situated within the Riverview Community Schools, County of Wayne, State of Michigan, be increased as provided in the Michigan Constitution, in the amount of 18 mills ($18.00 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation), for a period of 10 years, from 2016 through 2025, inclusive? This millage would provide estimated revenues to the Riverview Community Schools of $1,881,730.00 during the 2016 calendar year, to be used for general operating purposes, if approved and levied.

“Unfortunately I cannot explain any further what that ballot means because I have to comply with Public Act 269,” Pickell said.

The act, passed in the 11th hour by legislators in December, prohibits a public official from using taxpayer dollars to disseminate information about ballot proposals via radio, television, mass mailings or robocall in the 60 days prior to an election.

The act, deemed by many local officials as “gag order” legislation for public officials, denies them legally speaking about local millage elections.

Pickell has been transparent in his views of the legislation, saying it violates the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. Pickell, along with all school board members, agreed to be litigants in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the legislation.

He said at the meeting that the board expects the court to act “immediately” on the injunction.

“It prohibits core political speech,” Pickell said. “This legislation is ridiculous in how far it goes and the threats it entails.
“When we cannot use community resources to inform the constituents of factual information … you seriously wonder what is happening in this state. We hope this will be struck down very quickly.”

The Michigan Association of School Administrators is attempting to solve the issue and working to repeal the law; however, there have only been hearings on possible fixes to the law – not revocation.

“There is no way you can correct this law by adding to it,” Pickell said. “It should have never been written. It’s a terrible miscarriage of justice, a Constitutional violation.”

(Tereasa Nims can be reached at dstreporter@gmail.com.)

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