Speaking freely is a near-sacred American right, enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. That’s why the decision of the Warren County prosecutor to go after a school superintendent for speaking out is disturbing.
Yes, Arnol Elam, superintendent of Franklin schools, appeared to have crossed a line in a letter he sent home with students that blasted Gov. John Kasich’s new education budget. Elam spared no words in criticizing Kasich’s plan and called on taxpayers to “join me in an active campaign to ensure that Gov. Kasich and any legislator who supports him are not re-elected …”
That caused county prosecutor David Fornshell to open an investigation into whether Elam used public funds for a political purpose.
Does this really warrant using the substantial resources and power of the Warren County prosecutor’s office?
A longtime school superintendent voiced his frustration about the state of education in Ohio today and its impact on his school district. He should have known better than to call for the defeat of Kasich in his letter, as school leaders are usually hyper-aware about staying apolitical in their communications.
But it’s actually refreshing to hear a superintendent speak his mind and give a much-needed counterpoint to the spin from the governor’s office.
Immediately following the announcement of his plan, Kasich’s office distributed endorsements from superintendents and educators around the state. More than a dozen Ohio superintendents are featured on Kasich’s website praising the education proposals. They include Cincinnati’s Mary Ronan and Loveland’s John Marschausen.
Is that political?
Using the power of the prosecutor to investigate this dissenter is heavy-handed. If indeed Elam used public resources to produce and distribute his letter, then he can reimburse the state treasury.
But there are bigger issues here. The investigation is drowning out what Elam has to say, which is that the governor’s plan does nothing for his high-poverty district. He’s not the only superintendent to say this, but he may be the bluntest.
It also smacks of targeting an outspoken dissenter for prosecution. It’s relevant that Kasich is a Republican governor, that Fornshell chaired the Warren County Republican Party during Kasich’s election campaign and that Warren County is one of the most Republican counties in the state.
Fornshell’s investigation could chill further criticism of the governor’s proposals. His education plan would affect all 614 public school districts in the state.
It deserves a full, open, vigorous airing. That alone is reason to drop the investigation.