Facilities bond voted down by wide margin
“People worked extremely hard,” she said.
She listed the task force, the Vote Yes for Kids committee, the video and website created so voters would be well-informed.
“A lot of effort and hard work were put out. We really tried to look at ways to present the information. Of course it’s disappointing.”
While the official election results will be canvassed at the May 29 School Board meeting, she said, the discussions about what to do next will probably begin at the June 19 meeting.
Is there a chance of another vote in November?
“I have no idea,” she said.
Three-fifths of the ISD 831 residents who showed up to vote said no.
Of the 29,247 registered voters in the school district, 7,521 voted. Of those, 3,001 voted for the proposal and 4,520 against.
The school facilities bond was the only question on the ballot for this special election.
Madsen said the people involved did what was best for students and communicated their ideas well.
“It’s disappointing that people didn’t move ahead with that,” she said.
School Board members echoed Madsen’s thoughts.
“A loss like this locks you in place for a time,” Board President Rob Rapheal said. “We can’t be stuck in place. We need to keep moving forward.”
Raphael, who has served on the board through two gap analyses over four years, expressed frustration. But he was also optimistic that the school district would succeed eventually.
“We’ve seen that over the years: There’s resistance, and then we get a new high school. There’s resistance, and then we get a new junior high.”
The frustration comes, he said, when he thinks of the students.
“I see how hard kids are working in school. I want our buildings, and what we do as parents, to match what the kids are trying to do. They’re preparing for something bigger. Our buildings should match that and encourage it.”
In the largest school facilities bond ever put before a Minnesota community, voters were asked to approve funds for several categories: to update run-down buildings and aging equipment, to upgrade athletic facilities, to create a single junior high for grades seven and eight, to expand the high school to include grades nine through 12, to tear down an old school and remodel another to receive its programs, and to secure entrances at all school buildings.
Might the bond have passed if residents could have voted separately on each part?
“I don’t think so,” Raphael said. One problem with that approach is the Central Learning Center, which houses four different programs for four different age groups.
“In order to get security right, we need to move the programs to Southwest,” he said.
And it would be a mistake to separate buildings from athletic facilities, he added.
“Sports are a critical part of the educational experience,” he said.
“There were parts that appealed to a lot of people,” he said. “I think people just didn’t get out and vote.”
After the 2010 gap analysis found $100 million in needs, the district pared the list, asking voters for a $24 million bond in 2010. Voters said no.
“There are a lot of people in the community who just vote no,” Raphael said. “When the amount was $24 million, they said no. When the vote was to redo the levy, they said no. For $176 million, they said no. You’re just not going to convince these people.”
The $24 million bond proposal that failed in 2010 did not include reorganizing the secondary schools or closing the Central Learning Center.
Instead, it focused on heating/cooling, energy and security, Raphael said. Changing the school entrances so that visitors cannot access the halls, part of the May 20 bond proposal, was also included in 2010.
“That was before Sandy Hook and some of the other big tragedies,” Raphael said. “That got creamed.”
But he’s not ready to give up on secure entrances. “If something happened, it would be unconscionable if I hadn’t done everything I could to improve security.”
What should be the next step for the district?
“Nothing has changed,” Raphael said. “We still have buildings that need repair, buildings that aren’t secure, athletic facilities that are second-rate at best.”
Raphael said he, the superintendent and board members must figure out how to get this done.
“It’s difficult after a big defeat to brush yourself off and get back in the ring,” he said. But in 10 years, what he wants is not for things to be falling apart even more but for things to be fixed so the district will be “in a good place.”
Board Member Dan Kieger remains committed to the cause but has not decided how the board should proceed.
“We as a board think it’s needed,” he said. “We’re not asking for extremes: It’s a lot, but it’s all needs, for kids to get a good education.”
Kieger said the news of defeat was heartbreaking after all the time and energy spent on the proposal.
The school district buildings, many of them built in the 1950s and 1960s, need more security, new technology and better air quality, Kieger said.
“Right now, we need to stand back a few days before we start thinking: Should we try for a bond again, or make cuts? We try to keep class size down,” he said.
Board Member Karen Morehead said the board did the job it was elected to do: taking care of students and buildings.
“We’re all devastated now,” she said. “The citizens wanted the opportunity to vote, but when the number is that great, it’s hard for them to get their heads around it.”
Some people in the community have criticized the decision to hold the election in May, when fewer voters turn out, but Morehead defended it.
With the school facilities bond the only question on the ballet, she said, voters could focus on that.
“It would be a lot less transparent if you hid it in November with a lot of political stuff,” she said.
Morehead also objected strongly to the reuse of anti-levy signs in people’s yards.
“It wasn’t even a levy. It was a bond issue,” she said.
Board Member Gail Theisen said she was very surprised that the bond was defeated.
“In my door knocking, I heard from so many positive parents who were really inspired by what the task force brought forward,” she said. “The community still does want these improvements.”
The comprehensive nature of the bond proposal was an asset, not a liability, in the mind of Board Member Kathy Bystrom.
“It fixed everything once and for all,” she said. “It got it done. We weren’t needing to come back again and again.”
She believes that in this election voters were not rejecting all new taxes. Instead, they disagreed with the scope of the proposal.
“Clearly, the voters took a look at it and thought it was a little excessive, too much all at once,” she said. “This time, it was, ‘Give me something I can live with.’”
Bystrom said the board will solicit input from voters and probably be back soon with another bond proposal.
“I don’t think we can delay,” she said. “We know the need is there.”