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Buckeye Valley Local School District Spent $9,750 on Political Activities
Columbus – Buckeye Valley Local School District (Delaware County) spent $9,750 on political activities to help promote a bond levy campaign, according to an audit released today by Auditor of State Dave Yost. The money has since been repaid to the district.
“School districts are entrusted with public dollars to promote education – not school levies,” Auditor Yost said. “Now that the funds have been returned, I expect the district to spend them in accordance with the law.”
The Ohio Revised Code prohibits boards of education from using public funds to support or oppose the passage of school levies or bond issues. On March 18, 2014, the district’s board of education hired architecture firm OHM Advisors (OHM) to assess the district’s three elementary school facilities and provide cost estimates for renovations. Included in the scope of services was the employment of Aimpoint Research, LLC, a public relations/engagement firm, to provide community engagement with the likely goal of placing a bond issue for building renovations on the November 2014 ballot.
The total value of the agreement with OHM was $60,000 and included $30,000 for services provided by Aimpoint related to community engagement. OHM invoiced the district, and payments were made directly to the firm. When Aimpoint performed work as a subcontractor, it submitted invoices to OHM for payment.
Aimpoint was required to conduct two public meetings as part of the agreement. During an August 18, 2014 district facilities meeting, Aimpoint’s CEO spoke about campaign strategy and how to pass the proposed bond issuance. The next day, August 19, 2014, a board member was recorded saying the district hired OHM and Aimpoint “to aid us in passing the bond issue.” On September 3, 2014, Aimpoint billed OHM $2,500 for the meeting, and OHM later billed the district for the amount on September 29.
In addition, the agreement required Aimpoint to conduct a phone survey, which was administered in September 2014. The survey included statements informing citizens of the bond issue and questions designed to measure their support. Aimpoint billed OHM $14,500 for the survey, and OHM later billed the district for the full amount. The Auditor of State’s office concluded that half of the survey statements and questions were related to the promotion of the bond levy.
On October 6, 2014, the district paid OHM $2,500 for Aimpoint’s attendance at the facilities meeting and $7,250 for half of the survey costs. A finding for recovery in the amount of $9,750 was issued jointly and severally against OHM Advisors and Aimpoint Research, LLC. OHM Advisors repaid the full amount to the district on March 9, 2016.
On October 22, 2015, the Auditor of State’s office released a Public Interest Audit of the district that was conducted in response to a complaint related to the findings detailed above.
A full copy of this report may be accessed online.
The Auditor of State’s office, one of five independently elected statewide offices in Ohio, is responsible for auditing more than 5,800 state and local government agencies. Under the direction of Auditor Dave Yost, the office also provides financial services to local governments, investigates and prevents fraud in public agencies and promotes transparency in government.
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