CINCINNATI - Critics are questioning whether Ohio school districts are breaking the law by taking employees' voluntary donations to levy campaigns directly from their paychecks, saying it's an outrageous abuse of tax dollars.
Among 49 public school systems in southwestern Ohio, nine collect the voluntary contributions and forward the money to private campaign organizations, according to public records requests by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Christopher Finney, attorney and founding member of a citizens group opposed to the practice, said it's a blatant and illegal use of resources and personnel of publicly funded schools. He cited a state law that says boards of education shouldn't use public funds to support or oppose school levies.
``It's outrageous because typically the abuse of tax dollars to advance the cause of bigger government is usually more subtle,'' said Finney, of the Hamilton County-based Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, or COAST, a longtime critic and active litigator against various area school districts,
Some state school officials agree with him, but officials in the school districts with the practice defend it.
Debbie Alberico, a spokeswoman for West Clermont Local School District, said because no district funds are used to process the payroll deductions, district officials are confident it's legal.
David Lampe, an attorney for the school district, says a provision in state law allows public school districts to use a portion of the contributions to defray any costs associated with making them.
Two local prosecutors say they will review the practice at districts under their jurisdiction, while another has declined to look into two districts - Kings and Mason - that employ the practice.