On August 21, Auditor of State Keith Faber published long-anticipated guidance concerning school district levy or bond elections. The guidance clarifies the activities school officials and employees may engage in during levy or bond elections, in compliance with Revised Code Sections 9.03 and 3315.07.
To be clear, the law has not changed, and the guidance reinforces the existing notion that a district may inform but not influence during a levy or bond issue election. However, Ohio school district officials had requested and have been awaiting this guidance since January of 2022, when the Auditor of State's Special Investigations Unit, in cooperation with the Greene County Prosecutor, charged the superintendent and additional officials of the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local School District with misuse of public funds stemming from expenditures made in connection with a 2019 levy campaign.
The 22-page guidance document focuses on nine categories of potential issues school district officials may encounter during a levy or bond election, including:
- The use of district website, email, and other communications;
- Information sharing;
- Levy committee;
- District resources;
- Roles (of district officials and employees);
- Signs, shirts, and facilities;
- Student and staff involvement;
- Surveys; and
- Compensation and employment contracts for district administrators.
The guidance is organized in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQs) followed by answers and best practices. In addition to the FAQs, the guidance includes a sample survey that illustrates the types of permissible questions school districts may ask community members for strategic planningpurposes – but also includes examples of prohibited types of questions (i.e., polling community members to gauge whether a particular levy will pass or fail once it is already on the ballot).
The guidance is a great resource, but should not be substituted for legal advice, considering that levy and bond election issues are highly fact-specific. If you have a specific question pertaining to levy or bond campaign-related issues, we encourage you to involve your district's legal counsel.