School district looks for options after bond defeat
The $37 million Mountain Home School District bond issue went down to defeat in heavy voting last Tuesday, a decision that will leave the district scambling to find solutions to the problems the bond might have solved.
Only 1,465 voters cast ballots to approve the bond, with 952 of the 2,417 total ballots cast marked "no." Although the bond received a 60.6 percent approval rate it required 67 percent to pass.
Schools Supt. Tim McMurtrey, while disappointed in the defeat, was pleased with the turnout. "We feel like we got our message out, and the voters have spoken."
The bond enjoyed widespread support among voters who cast ballots at the high school (80.35 percent), the junior high (70.45 percent) and Hacker Middle School (71.28 percent), the three schools most directly affected by the bond.
However, it barely exceeded 50 percent among all of the votes cast at the elementary schools, except for the base primary, where voters cast 62.3 percent of their ballots for approval. Voters at East Elementary only approved the measure by 52.88 percent, North Elementary voters hit 53.46 percent, and voters at the West Elementary polling site reached only a 51.04 percent approval rate. The Pine polling site was the only location where the bond received less than 50 percent, with 17 voters casting "yes" ballots and 29 casting "no" ballots (36.96 percent).
The bond was designed to complete Phase II of the high school project, begun when the current junior high was built 10 years ago. In September of last year, when the district tried the identical proposal, the bond failed by 73 votes after getting 65.1 percent of the 1,514 votes cast. Between the two bonds the estimated cost of construction rose by approximately $2.5 million.
McMurtrey said it was too early to say what the district's board of trustees will do, but, he said, "I suspect we'll just put it away for a while."
The school board hasn't met yet or decided what they are going to do, however, Jim Alexander, the board's chairman, is sure of one thing.
"We'll continue to educate kids to the best of our ability," Alexander said. "We just won't have as many tools to do it."
Superintendent Tim McMurtrey said he will meet with the school board and bond committee and will look at all the options once again and decide how to proceed.
Prior to the election, McMurtrey said if the bond didn't pass, the school district would have to adjust the district's five-year maintenance plan to finance the $1.5 million roof at Lloyd Schiller Gymnasium.
The bow trusses are failing there and McMurtrey said the district has babied the trusses as long as they can, including wrapping them in steel, but it is time to replace them.
He said the district will have to use the plant facility and federal forest funds the school receives to replace the roof.
The school district typically uses those funds to purchase new technology as well as textbooks. All of the district's plant facility and federal forest funds will go towards the roof for the next two years, he said.
Alexander said Friday the district will only have funds for basic maintenance in buildings.
"I'm not saying no maintenance, but the type of maintenance we've done over the last 20 years will probably take a back seat to immediate problems," he said.
He also said the district won't be able to buy as many textbooks or any computers for the next few years.
Alexander said the bond was designed to address the future but the board will have to go back to square one and decide how to handle present problems.
One of the school district's problems is overcrowding at Hacker Middle School.
Currently, the building houses 899 fifth- though seventh-grade students. In August, 946 students are expected to show up for the first day of class in a building with a maximum capacity of 926.
Alexander's initial thoughts are the district will have to use its resources to start purchasing temporary buildings. He said buying temporary buildings isn't building for the future or accumulating assets.
"It's a disposable building that 20 years from now will be in a landfill, instead of a building that will last 100 years," Alexander said.
He said square foot wise, temporary buildings cost about the same as a permanent building costs to build.
He said the school district will probably just try to get by next year and putting temporary buildings at Hacker is a possible solution.
Moving fifth-grade students back into the elementary schools is another possible solution, though Alexander said there's a good chance the district would have to ask for another bond to put temporary buildings at each elementary school.
"We feel it's to our advantage to see problems and try to address them before they come," Alexander said. "Right now, we're going to have to adjust as they come. We can't afford to waste any more time on buildings for the future when building for the future has failed. Now we have to build for the moment."