JACKSONVILLE, Ill. – Officials in Jacksonville School District 117 might be a little too eager to see Morgan County voters approve the one-cent sales tax increase next Tuesday.
Dennis Collins serves as the chairman for Morgan County Citizens Acting for Responsible Education, a group opposed to the proposed tax increase. Collins claims that District 117 officials sent a pro-tax flyer home with students last Wednesday.
The flyer in question outlines the school district’s “facilities vision,” which includes closing two elementary schools, building a new high school, and refurbishing other district buildings and athletic facilities.
“Buildings constructed more than a half century ago are in need of major renovations and simply do not meet the needs of a 21st century education,” the flyer reads. “Outdated mechanical, electrical and HVAC systems, inadequate classrooms and labs and other issues have a direct impact on learning.”
The flyer also details which products would be taxed at the higher rate, and concludes with a summary of the “area sales tax rates,” that shows Jacksonville’s current tax rate of 7 percent at the bottom of the list. The implication seems to be that residents in Illinois’ Morgan County are under-taxed.
The anti-tax group is represented by attorney Andrew Carruthers, who believes the flyers are in violation of two Illinois state laws.
“The District distributed the attached flyer in the backpacks of District students today,” Carruthers writes in a March 14 letter to Morgan County State’s Attorney Chris Reif.
“The drafting, publication, and distribution of these materials by District employees and through the use of District resources violate … sections of the Illinois State Official and Employees Ethics Act,” writes Carruthers, who cites Sec. 5-15 as prohibiting state employees from engaging in political activities during work time.
Carruthers believes District 117 officials also violated the Illinois Election Code which states, “… [N]o public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition. …”
The law does provide the use of “public funds for dissemination of factual information relative to any proposition appearing on an election ballot. …”
“Although the District would likely claim these activities amount to nothing more than the dissemination of ‘factual information,’ it is clear to any reader that the District is advocating for the passage of the referendum,” Carruthers states.
By claiming that district facilities are “outdated” and “do not meet the needs of the 21st century education,” the flyers clearly cross the line from providing facts to offering opinions.
“If you’re only explaining the benefits of something, and people are walking away with a favorable view of it, you’re campaigning,” Carruthers told EAG.
The flyers sent home with students are just the most recent violation of state law by District 117 officials, Carruthers said. The district’s website effectively advocates for the passage of the tax hike, as do the slides the district airs on a local public access TV channel.
The tax proposal will be decided as part of next Tuesday’s primary election.