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Election fatigue kicks school bond talk to 2017

State law lets schools hold a spring election for building bond proposals, but it didn’t take long for the South Washington County School Board to reject that idea for 2016.

“I believe that spring would be a good time, (but) not this spring,” board member Sharon Van Leer said. “I think we need to give ourselves time.”

“Everybody’s just too tired,” admitted board member Katy McElwee-Stevens, even sounding exhausted at the thought of another referendum campaign so soon after the Nov. 3 vote.

District 833 will not be on the ballot again — for School Board seats, an operating levy or a construction bond — until 2017, the board informally decided during an election debriefing last week. Administrators wanted some direction after seeing the second bond question on the ballot earlier this month fail.

“Spring seems way too quick,” board member Joe Slavin said. “Clearly it was voted down and there’s a reason for that, and until we have a better understanding of what that is and if it is about demonstrating a more pressing need for space, that’s not going to iron itself out in the next six months.”

Voters approved by a comfortable margin a 10-year, $10.3 million operating levy increase in the Nov. 3 election. By only an 18-vote margin, they also passed the first of two bond measures on the ballot — $96 million to build a new Oltman Middle School, upgrade the other three middle schools and remodel the current Oltman building so it can be home to Nuevas Fronteras, the district’s Spanish immersion elementary school.

However, that middle school bond vote ultimately will be decided by a canvassing board Wednesday, after a hand recount put the victory margin at 18 votes, with 19 votes challenged.

Voters rejected the second bond measure that would have collected $46.5 million for additions to the three high schools and improvements to the district’s elementary school.

Superintendent Keith Jacobus said the district will need to go back to voters because there are space issues at the elementary and high school levels. He said the board could consider a number of election options with timing ranging from 2016 to 2018.

The district already plans to be on the November 2017 ballot to seek renewal of an existing levy, money voters approved in 2007 that helps pay for classroom operations. It also has discussed asking for an additional $375-per-pupil levy in that election, following up on the $525-per-pupil increase that passed this month.

While board members nixed the idea of a spring 2016 bond measure, they also were cool to holding even-year elections in general. They acknowledge voter turnout is higher in even-year elections, but said school issues get lost amid presidential and state-level electioneering.

The district is at its most transparent when it’s alone on an odd-year ballot, board member Michelle Witte said.

“I’m in favor of putting it on the ballot when we can get our message across the best,” she said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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