Signs in full bloom around region as school budgets head to voters

Signs imploring people to vote their local school budgets either up or down have popped up in the la

Signs imploring people to vote their local school budgets either up or down have popped up in the last week or so around the region, all aimed at convincing people how to vote in school elections being held across New York today.

Parent-teacher associations, teacher unions and other groups — even regular citizens — can put up signs encouraging people to “Vote Yes” or “Vote No.” Such campaign-style advertising signs are perfectly legal, as long as the school district hasn’t paid for them and they aren’t actually on school grounds.

State education law allows districts to use factual information to exhort people to vote — as long as they don’t suggest how to vote. Around Ballston Spa, for instance, small yellow signs simply urge people to remember to vote today at the high school.

“The school can’t advertise that you vote either way,” said Joe Waldron, president of the Mechanicville City School District Board of Education. “You can’t try to persuade people on the budget.”

School districts also can’t tacitly work with PTAs or teacher unions to allow them to put “Vote Yes” signs on school grounds, said David Albert, a spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association. But signs just off school grounds, and visible from the polling places, are allowed.

“As long as they’re not spending taxpayers’ resources, they’re entitled to express their opinion,” Albert said.

Erecting a signs generally needs a permit from the municipality, but political signs are often exempt from those rules.

“It’s a big free speech issue,” said Gerald McKenna, the town of Greenfield’s building inspector.

On Election Day, electioneering is prohibited within 100 feet of the polling place, whether by school board candidates or people with strong opinions on the district spending plans. But even without outright campaigning, school advocates have subtle ways to build support for a school budget, such as holding family-friendly events in conjunction with a vote.

State education commissioners have ruled those activities are perfectly legal, as long as they are open to all district residents.

“Holding a barbecue fundraiser at the same time as the election, even if the grill is within 100 feet of the voting booth, does not constitute electioneering in and of itself,” according to “School Law,” a publication of the school boards association and New York State Bar Association. “Neither does holding a school concert the night of the budget vote.”

School districts across the state will have their polls open today. Large districts have voting from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., though some smaller districts have shorter hours.

Categories: Schenectady County

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