With a flow chart, reminders in employee newsletters and chats with volunteers, Center Grove school officials have been working to be sure they don’t violate state law with their support of a proposed $10 million student activity center.
State law says that a local government cannot promote a position during a petition and remonstrance process for a taxpayer-funded project, such as the proposed center. That means school employees cannot use their email addresses, company property or work time to try to persuade people to support the project, petitions cannot be handed out on school property and students cannot be sent home with information about the project by their school.
But concerns about employees or volunteers violating the law hasn’t been an issue, Superintendent Richard Arkanoff said.
Since the petition process began for the proposed student activity center, Arkanoff has not spoken with any groups about the project and has only made presentations to volunteers about the rules of the process, he said.
Stacy Conrad, who is the spokeswoman for the school district, has sent out information to the media about when supporters are having petition drives, and she has also shared information with media outlets on how to contact the leaders of both the opposition and support groups when asked, she said.
As long as both sides are receiving the same opportunities, that type of communication is allowed under the law, said Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association.
Arkanoff has attended petition drives for the supporters, but those have been done outside of school hours and off school property, which also meets the requirements under the law, he said.
Arkanoff also has told employees what they can and can’t do under the law, including using a chart that addresses specific questions for employees, school board members, parents and volunteers, architects and attorneys and other consultants, and the superintendent and other school officials.
Billy Bemis, a Center Grove parent who leads the supporters, also has made sure all of his volunteers understand the law, he said.
Anyone who has received a petition to collect signatures also has been informed of the rules of where and when those signatures can be collected, he said. He also has answered questions or gotten answers as questions have come up, such as whether parents can collect signatures during a school event, which is allowed if it’s on school property, he said. And he’s made sure any meetings by the group are also not on school property, he said.
“We want to make sure we do it the right way. We’ve all been very conscientious. And there has not been anyone that violated that,” Bemis said.
Indiana law states that:
The local government may not promote a position on the petition or remonstrance by doing any of the following:
- Allowing the use of facilities or equipment, including mail and messaging systems, for public relations purposes to promote a position on the petition or remonstrance, unless equal access to the facilities or equipment is given to persons with a position opposite to that of the local government.
- Spending money controlled by the political subdivision to promote a position on the petition or remonstrance, or to pay for the gathering of signatures. A political subdivision, however, may hire an attorney, an architect, registered professional engineer, a construction manager, or a financial adviser for professional services regarding a controlled project.
- Using an employee to promote a position on the petition or remonstrance during normal working hours or paid overtime, or otherwise forcing an employee to promote a position on the petition or remonstrance at any time.
- In the case of a school corporation, promoting a position on a petition or remonstrance by: using students to transport written materials to their homes, or in any way directly involving students in a school-organized promotion of a position; or including a statement within another communication sent to the students’ residences.
A person may not solicit or collect signatures for a petition or remonstrance on property owned or controlled by the local government.