No disciplinary action against GM Schools on election complaint

By Rick Palsgrove
Southeast Editor

In its annual audit of Groveport Madison Schools, the State Auditor’s Office noted district officials did not follow Ohio law concerning some election campaign practices used in connection with the district’s May 7, 2019 bond issue/levy campaign.

However, in a letter dated March 19, 2020, State Auditor Keith Faber noted the state would take no disciplinary action against the district regarding the complaint filed by a member of Citizens for Better Groveport Madison Schools, which opposed the combined levy/bond issue.

Faber’s letter cited Ohio law that states school officials cannot use “public funds to support or oppose the passage of a school levy or bond issue or to compensate any school district employee for time spent on any activity intended to influence the outcome of a school levy or bond issue election.”

Faber noted that, during the May 2019 election campaign, Groveport Madison posted two videos featuring the district’s superintendent “asking for support for the district’s operating levy.”

In his letter, Faber advised that, in the future district officials, “should consult with legal counsel before posting videos accessible to the public to ensure they are in compliance with state and federal requirements.” He further stated the district should develop procedures “to ensure activities are for a proper public purpose.”

Groveport Madison issued the following statement in regards to Faber’s findings:

“In the May 2019 levy campaign, a complaint was filed with the Ohio Ethics Commission alleging the Groveport Madison school district misused taxpayer dollars, when in an informational video, it was stated, ‘We ask for your support for the bond issue on May 7, 2019.’ The Ohio Ethics Commission did not make a ruling on the allegation, but instead referred the matter to the Ohio Auditor of State. In receiving the allegation, the Auditor’s Office did not make an initial ruling, but stated it would review the complaint as part of its annual audit of the school district. As soon as the district was made aware of the complaint/allegation, we immediately removed the video from our website and issued a public statement acknowledging the allegation and providing a response. In March 2020, the state concluded the district’s annual audit. The Auditor’s Office determined there was no cause for disciplinary action, nor did they prescribe any penalties nor findings for recovery as a result of the infraction. The audit noted only that the district should ensure systems are in place to prevent a reoccurrence of the incident mentioned above.”

Groveport Madison Schools Superintendent Garilee Ogden said district officials have worked hard over the past two-and-a-half years to rebuild trust and confidence in the school district.

“While our statement in the video was intended only to thank the community for their support of Issue 5, we understand it was in error, and we have put in place measures to safeguard against any reoccurrence of this incident in the future,” said Ogden.

In May 2019, voters in the Groveport Madison school district rejected the combined operating levy and bond issue by 54 percent to 46 percent.
In November 2019, the voters did approve the district’s 6.68 mill, five year replacement operating levy by 67 percent to 33 percent.

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