Olentangy Local School District officials Aug. 9 addressed concerns over last weekend’s campaign rally and visit from President Donald Trump.
Superintendent Mark Raiff, during the Aug. 9 school board meeting, detailed the process behind Olentangy Orange High School, 2840 E. Orange Road, being selected as the site to host an Aug. 4 rally for state Sen. Troy Balderson.
The district was paid $7,000 for use of the school, a figure that was calculated based on “estimated custodial and field maintenance costs” and the number of hours the district would be without use of its facilities, Raiff said.
Trump was in town to stump for Balderson, the Republican candidate who faced Democrat Danny O’Connor in the race for the U.S. House 12th District seat in a special election held Aug. 7.
Initial election results show Balderson beat O’Connor by just more than 1,500 votes, though about 8,500 provisional ballots have yet to be counted.
The district first received a request to host the event July 31. Organizers then told the district the next day they would use the Delaware County Fairgrounds instead, Raiff said.
By Aug. 2, the event was being billed as a Trump rally and campaign officials again approached the district, he said.
Olentangy sent out two notices to parents Aug. 2 in advance of the rally: one announcing the president’s visit in support of Troy Balderson, and a second clarifying the district wasn’t endorsing any candidate by allowing the rally.
District policy allows use of school property “for any certified candidate for public office and any recognized political party or organization for the purpose of conducting public discussions of public questions and issues.”
“There are laws regarding the open access of our facilities,” Raiff said. “Initially, it was posed to me as a rally for Troy Balderson, who was running for the 12th District. The facility originally chosen at the fairgrounds was not going to be big enough.”
The gymnasium at Orange High School is among the “biggest venues in the county from a seating standpoint,” Raiff said.
It held about 2,500 people the day of the rally, Raiff said.
Raiff said he spent much of the day Aug. 2 walking the grounds of Liberty and Orange high schools with U.S. Secret Service officials and members of the district’s facilities team.
Liberty was ruled out because of a previously scheduled field hockey event. The gymnasium at Olentangy High School was deemed too small, and Berlin High School was not yet open to the public, Raiff said.
A grand-opening celebration for Berlin had long been planned for Aug. 5, the day after the rally.
“It took a few hours to look at all the space, where they’d bring the motorcade and things like that,” Raiff said.
Vendors were permitted to sell merchandise inside the event, Raiff said, comparing it to booster organizations that rent space from the district and sell items to raise funds.
Vendors outside of the school were “private vendors … and they were asked to be removed from the premises by the local sheriff,” Raiff said. “As we were made aware of any incident, we addressed that as quickly as we possibly could.”
The event was peaceful and there was no major damage reported, Raiff said.
Orange High School’s “spirit rock” was repeatedly painted with political graffiti, which is against district policy. Officials have repainted the rock.
School board President Mindy Patrick said she and fellow board members received “a great deal” of calls and emails about the rally.
“The timing of the visit was not ideal,” Patrick said, because it eclipsed a weekend that was supposed to be dedicated to the opening of Berlin. She said the district is focused on starting the school year on a positive note.
“I thought it was overshadowing what was so long in the making,” Patrick said. “It’s time to put the spotlight back on where it really matters.”
Board member Roger Bartz said the event was a “valuable lesson” in civics. He cautioned against people who said the visit is a reason not to support the district, calling it “short-sighted and narrow-minded.”
“Teachers can use this as a moment to teach how our government works ... and use it as a learning opportunity,” he said.
District leaders are reviewing facility-rental guidelines but believe the visit was handled in accordance with state law and board policy, Raiff said.
“It was a unique opportunity to have the president of the United States on our campus,” Raiff said. “I understand and appreciate both sides of this issue. I don’t want to be involved in politics; all I want to do is take care of our kids and do everything possible to facilitate maximum learning for every student.”
The next school board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 6 at district headquarters, 7840 Graphics Way in Lewis Center.