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AURORA -- The Aurora school district's two "all-calls," in connection with its school levy which was approved May 2, were permissible under Ohio law, according to Superintendent Pat Ciccantelli.
"We used the all-call system to inform our greater community that there was [levy] information on our website," he said. "We didn't tell people how to vote or encourage them to vote 'yes.'"
But at least one resident is questioning the school district's use of its "robo-call" service. Gary Janscurak said he doesn't remember the calls the same way Ciccantelli does. "It was definitely promoting the levy, saying they needed the levy and that you could find more information on the website," he said.
Janscurak said he had "mixed feelings" about the levy. "They made a big deal about the fact the teachers are paying 5 percent more toward insurance premiums now," he said, adding his insurance costs have increased a great deal more than that.
Ciccantelli said the calls were not campaigning. "There was no campaign literature," he said. "There was no 'vote for the levy.' It was information for educational purposes."
Aurora's continuing 5.9-mill additional school levy passed by a 62 percent to 38 percent margin.
According to the Ohio Revised Code, boards of education are not permitted to use public funds to support or oppose a school levy or bond issue or compensate district employees for campaigning.
Districts in Portage County that had issues on the ballot May 2 used the robo-call service in a variety of ways.
Ravenna Superintendent Dennis Honkala said the levy committee paid the district for the use of its robo-call system, and a committee member delivered the message, which he said was a reminder to vote, not a call to vote in favor of the levy.
"You can't tell people to vote 'yes,' but you can direct them to information sites and provide information," he said. "We write out a script, check it and double check it, and have 10 different people look it over to make sure it's generic enough."
While he said allowing a pro-levy group to pay for use of the all-call service "is suspect," Mark Altier, legal counsel for the Ohio auditor's office, said it's OK if it's clear that any other groups would be extended the same opportunity to use the all-call system for a fee.
"If the district adopts a policy which permits other groups and entities access to the use of the district's all-call service for the promotional purposes of the group or entity, and such opportunity is provided uniformly and in a content neutral manner, the activity may not be violative of the law if a campaign group avails itself of such access," he wrote in an email to the Aurora Advocate.
If the Ravenna levy committee asked residents to vote in favor of the levy on the robocall system, Honkala said he would have to permit any potential levy opponents a chance to pay for using the service and delivering their message.
Waterloo Superintendent Shawn Braman said he uses the robocall service sparingly.
"Throughout the course of the school year, we tend to use it for emergency announcements or reminders when it's an important message we want parents to remember," he said. "I don't like using the all-call all the time because I think people get sick of it."
One of those important messages this year was a reminder to vote on May 2 and weigh in on the district's levy. "We're always very careful about not telling people vote 'yes,'" he said.
Crestwood Superintendent David Toth said he didn't send out an all-call message this year to raise awareness of the district's bond issue and election day. "We didn't do that this time," he said. "I think I might have in the past."
He said the only times he uses the all-call service are for snow days and emergencies.
"If I do a phone call, I want people to understand there's a sense of emergency," he said. "I try to avoid it because I want that in my pocket if something really tragic happens."
Crestwood's bond issue and levies for the Field and Waterloo districts failed last week, while Ravenna's levy passed.
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