Calls, emails for Stonington school budget vote banned

Stonington - For the past five years the school system has used its notification system to send emails and make phone calls to remind parents to vote in the upcoming budget referendums. The notifications were prohibited from promoting a "yes" or "no" vote but told parents about the date, time and location of the voting.

During that five year-period, the budget passed on the first try four out of five times. In the five years before that, it failed on the first try four out of five times.

But thanks to a new state law that took effect July 1, school officials will be prohibited from using the system this spring when they are trying to get the 2014-15 budget passed.

"There seems to be a correlation between our ability to use this technology and getting the budget passed the first time," said Board of Education Chairwoman Gail MacDonald. "Eliminating this type of communication will hamper our ability to get the budget passed."

Public Act 13-247 only allows community notification systems, those that are available to all residents, to send out details about the voting as well as the wording of the question and an explanatory text. Under the law, only the chief elected official of a municipality, in Stonington's case the first selectman, could authorize the use of such a system.

Last week the Board of Selectmen joined with the Board of Education to support the repeal of the law, according to MacDonald.

MacDonald, who has researched the intent of the law, said state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, and state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-18th District, were unaware of the law's passage as it was inserted into a massive bill in the waning days of the session. She said that even if the law is repealed, the change would likely not take effect until after the town votes on its budget next spring.

MacDonald said she investigated whether any towns have such a community wide system but could not find any. The police department does have a system that anyone can sign up for which disseminates updates about crime, weather, parking bans and emergencies. It is unclear whether that system could be used.

The law does make an exception for a regularly published newsletter, so MacDonald said that might be a possibility to inform voters. MacDonald said that the school board's attorney said that because there are so many questions about the law, it may have to be tested by towns to see what will be allowed.

The law was introduced by state Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-24th District, after the Republican Town Committee chairman in Windsor and a Bethel activist complained about using a system to inform one segment of the population about a budget vote.


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