2nd SL bond issue vote could come in August: Difficult decisions to be made for 2019-20 at elementary, middle school

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Several leaders from within the Storm Lake schools and architect representatives will gather Thursday for an internal meeting to discuss necessary measures in the wake of a failed effort for a school bond vote.

The proposal would have build a $29 million structure housing preschool, kindergarten and first grade, and relieve crowded elementary and middle schools of one grade each.

The overflowing numbers at the elementary and middle school buildings will require additional action for the next school year, Superintendent Stacey Cole said.

“We’re going to have to do something at the middle school. We’ve crunched the numbers every way possible. We thought we might be able to hold off for a year, but I suspect we will see some sort of structure added outside the middle school,” she said.

At the elementary, she feels the district likely will try to get by with existing space inside the building, through that could involve taking more shared spaces and perhaps the remaining music room for classroom space.

“It’s a tough place to be in, no doubt about that,” she said of the numbers in the schools that have overgrown building capacity. “We’ll make it work; that’s what we do.”

The gathering Thursday will also discuss possible directions to take on the Early Childhood Center after the defeat at the polls in December, though decisions will be up to the board of eduction to make later.

“We’re all getting feedback from lots of people, so we want to start collecting information and ideas, get in the same room and throw out what we are hearing,” Cole told the Pilot-Tribune.

The district will soon release a survey in hopes of gathering input from the public.

While no decisions have yet been made, the superintendent anticipates that a second attempt at a school bond vote could happen in August.

The district is required to wait at least six months, and there are only four dates during 2019 open for such a vote. The six-month required waiting period between votes rules the first of them out.

The first voting opportunity for Storm Lake would be in June, but at that time, the district is focused on hiring staff at the end of the academic year.

“It’s a crazy time. I don’t know if I could put forth the effort to speak to as many groups on the issue as I did for the first election, and still focus on hiring the very best people. Our number one job is to teach our kids,” Cole said.

An August vote as opposed to one six weeks earlier in June would not lose the district any time, as either way they would be hiring a contractor for construction the following spring - a year after the original hopes of the 2018 effort.

The next possible date would be the general election day, which is roundly considered a bad time to complicate the ballot with a school issue.

“Really, we have only two viable choices,” Cole said of a 2019 voting date.

The superintendent predicts that one of two approaches will emerge - either a proposal extremely similar to the one that narrowly failed in December, or one that is very much different.

“I don’t think it’s a case where we can just say let’s take the plan and lop $5 million off it and vote again.”

The decision is a difficult one, because the district really doesn’t know why the people who voted against the bond issue did so.

“There are definitely two camps out there. Some people are bending my ear saying, ‘You need to go after that project again and think of how to get the people out who didn’t vote last time,’ and a whole other crew is saying, ‘This isn’t the project.’”

The district is encouraged that among the school bond issues around the state also requiring the complication of a two-question ballot, Storm Lake saw easily the strongest positive vote, she said, a majority but not enough to meet the 60 percent supermajority threshold.

As part of the new survey, voters who did not approve will be asked what change in the plan would have made them say yes.

“The difficult part is getting people who are not connected to the school to tell us what the are thinking. Since this is anonymous, maybe it will be easier for them to respond than having to do it in a public forum,” Cole said.

As well as reconsidering the plan, the district will reconsider a guiding committee. “As a district we are very willing to listen to ideas people have. We will be considering every idea, starting a file, having internal meetings to begin the process. If community members would like to step out we would love to have them as part of this,” she said, noting as well that the district is open to adding a December “no” voter to a committee, if possible.

She has heard the complaints about alleged vote stacking in the first bond attempt, as two satellite voting stations were set up in the schools during student performances that had drawn crowds.

Cole said there was nothing improper about the voting stations. “If we had really wanted to capitalize, we would have put one at the college, where students aren’t paying taxes and would have no reason to vote against it,” she said. “We would never do that, because we want the outcome to be honestly what the community thinks,” she said. “It hurts the heart a little bit to think that some people feel we were engaging in something improper.”

While a vote may not happen until August, there is much to do before that can happen, many crucial decisions to make, and school leaders can feel the urgency of the ticking clock.

“I’m pretty sure that’s what woke me up this morning at 4 a.m.,” Cole said.

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