School board president reported neighboring district

Kelly Kohls, president of the Springboro school board, was the first person to ask whether aletter critical of the governor that was posted on the Franklin schools web site and sent to families violated Ohio law.

Kohls raised the issue to Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell. Despite an agreement with Franklin schools that was negotiated by Fornshell, Kohls said last week she wonders if the actions to resolve the issue are far-reaching enough.

The letter in question, was posted and sent to families by Franklin Superintendent Arnol Elam on February 13.

In the letter, Elam called for a political uprising against Kasich and his backers in the legislature after the governor’s budget left Franklin among Ohio districts expecting no increase in state funding.

“Please join me in an active campaign to ensure that Gov. Kasich and any legislator who supports him are not re-elected,” the letter said.

Although the letter was taken down from the website quickly, Kohls said last week that her district is now open to requests from political action committees for access to district mailing lists and other resources. Elam also reimbursed the district $539 for the costs of copying the letter and one sent to clarify the board’s position.

“This is a board member trying to get clarity about Ohio law,” Kohls said, noting the lack of other consequences for the Franklin board. “It appears to me the precedent is set there.”

Fornshell and the district’s attorney negotiated the settlement. No case was filed. Fornshell, a Republican, said there was no political motivation in his response to the situation.

State GOP officials also alerted Fornshell of the letter, but Kohls, also president of the Warren County Tea Party, was the first person to contact the prosecutor, according to records obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

“Can there be legal actions here?” Kohls said in an email sent from her Tea Party account at 7:08 a.m. Feb. 14. While supporting Kohls’ action, Springboro Board Vice President Jim Rigano said the board hadn’t discussed the issue.

Kohls also said she contacted Franklin officials after learning of the letter from another Tea Party member. As an elected official, Kohls said she was ethically bound to report on the neighboring district.

“That was political propaganda put in the hands of children. We should never do that,” she said.

Elam said the Franklin board never meant to violate Ohio law and declined to criticize Kohls.

“As far as I’m concerned she can do what she thinks she needs to do,” Elam said, adding his only regret was that, by raising the political argument, he took focus away from the governor’s funding of school districts.

Fornshell stood by the settlement.

“I think the precedent that has been set is that if you engage in that type of activity, you have broken the law,” he said in an email. “We have highlighted to anybody that works for any Warren County governmental entity what you can, or perhaps better said, cannot do with public money.”

Staff writers Ed Richter and Denise Callahan contributed to this report.