For the second time in two years, voters Tuesday rejected the Longview School District’s $119 million facilities bond despite officials’ efforts to broaden its appeal and consult the public.
The measure failed, supporters said Wednesday, because of the sheer size of the request, concerns about high taxes, low voter turnout and a misunderstanding of how much the district needed to upgrade its schools and athletic facilities.
As of Tuesday evening, 55% of voters supported the bond, which needed a 60% supermajority to pass. The vote total Wednesday night was 4,942 yes, 3,860 no. Though mathematically possible, further ballot counting is highly unlikely to push the measure to victory.
The 2017 bond for $121 million came closer to passing than this one.
“While we are disappointed the bond didn’t pass, we’ve felt amazing support from the community for the capital bond and our improving academic achievement results this past year,” Superintendent Dan Zorn said Tuesday night.
Bill Hallanger, who wrote the “against” statement in the Voter’s Pamphlet, said Tuesday he agrees that schools need renovating, but the district’s proposal was just too large. It would have been by far the largest bond the district ever passed.
“They’re going to have to have a bond issue, but it should be a bond issue of about half as many dollars,” Hallanger said.
Hallanger said he had the same concerns about price in 2017, and said there should have been a more individualized approach to school safety.
“I think parents will want something different for safety than what would have been proposed,” he said.
Jeri Dalgleish, Republican Precinct Committee Officer for Longview’s Lake precinct, said she was disappointed the bond failed.
“We need to invest in our kids, and one part of that investment is our schools and our curriculum, buying books we need and getting the staff we need,” Dalgleish said Wednesday.
She said school buildings are also part of that investment, and many of the buildings “desperately need help.”
Dalgleish said voters feel over-taxed and not have understood just how much the district needs the funds.
“I understand feeling that we’re overly taxed right now, but it’s your future,” Dalgleish said. “These are our future leaders, and if we don’t give them the tools to succeed now, and give them a quality education, which includes buildings ... then what’s that say about where our priorities are?”
The bond would have raised money to replace Mint Valley and Northlake elementaries; upgrade electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; update vocational and technical education classrooms; and boost security at all schools.
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Longview Memorial Stadium also would have received a $7 million facelift, including a turf field and new locker rooms, running track, lighting, roof, scoreboard and aluminum bleachers to replace the demolished “visitor” grandstand. The 2017 bond plan did not propose any work at the stadium, an omission cited as one of the major reasons for its election failure.
School board member Barb Westrick, who won her re-election race Tuesday night, said she wanted to make sure safety and security are still addressed at all the schools.
“I want to make sure even though the bond didn’t pass to figure out how we’re going to do that safety and security piece,” Westrick said Wednesday. “We might have to change some of our priorities on projects.”
Westrick said she thought the low voter turnout could explain the bond’s failure. She said she hopes the community will reach out to the school board and tell it what could have been done differently.
“I’m glad to be re-elected and I will do my best to serve the community,” Westrick said. “I hope they will come to us and let us know what they wanted.”
School Board President CJ Nickerson said Wednesday that he’s not giving up hope that uncounted ballots could still turn the tide. He said he is disappointed, especially because the district tried so hard to gather community opinion and the effort came close.
“This is the second time in a row we did get the majority of the votes, it’s the 60% thing that’s putting us in this position,” Nickerson said. “It’s significant that both times we ran the election for the bond we had significantly more than 50% of the people say ‘yes’.” So I appreciate those votes.”
Zorn said the building needs are not going away, and the district will start discussions about the timing of a possible future bond campaign. Supporters acknowledged that the district asked for a lot of money, but it’s a good time to undertake facilities projects because interest rates are so low, they said.
For this year’s proposal, the district held 14 community forums and conducted a poll in hopes of developing a plan voters would support.
“The bond measure received significant support, and we are thankful for it,” Zorn said. “Looking ahead, we will seek additional community input to figure out the future of our facilities.”
On Wednesday, district spokesman Rick Parrish said the district will continue to do necessary repairs on all schools while conversations about a possible new bond campaign happen.
“We continually put maintenance and repair dollars into all our schools because it’s important that the kids have classrooms that are heated properly, and the roof doesn’t leak, and that the lights work,” Parrish said. “That’s just a normal part of operating a school district.”
The bond would have cost property owners an estimated 88 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation annually for 21 years. That’s $176 a year on a home valued at $200,000, according to district estimates. The tax would have taken effect in 2021 and expired in 2042.
The district said it had not, before 2017, asked for a bond since 2001, and the debt on the 2001 bond will be paid off by 2022. This means taxpayers would have simultaneously shouldered the burden for the old bond and the new one for just one year, which would have been a total of $1.64 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.