OTTAWA LAKE - Voters in the Whiteford Agricultural School District yesterday reversed themselves and chose to raise their taxes for 26 years to fix up the district's dilapidated school buildings after overwhelmingly rejecting similar requests in 1999 and 2000.
“I'm so happy I could cry,” Holly Bunge, a member of the Whiteford board of education, said.
In what Whiteford Superintendent John Gasidlo said was the second-highest voter turnout in school history, district residents said yes to a 3.68-mill levy that will raise $8.115 million for districtwide remodeling and much-needed maintenance work. The measure, listed as Proposal A on the three-question ballot, passed 601 to 547.
The levy, which will appear on residents' tax bills in December, will pay for a new roof, windows, and lighting, and remodeled restrooms in the district's combination middle/high school. The elementary school will get a computer lab, media center, and new space for offices, art and music rooms, and a lunchroom.
But while voters gave an approving nod to the measure to repair their school buildings, they again rejected two additional requests to make wholesale improvements to Whiteford's small campus on Consear Road.
Proposal B sought a 0.61-mill, 26-year request that would have raised $1.33 million, mainly to build two classrooms in the elementary school and two science labs in the high school. Voters rejected the measure 644-495.
Proposal C asked for a 1.33-mill, 26-year bond issue to raise $2.93 million mainly for a multipurpose room or gym that would serve the elementary school. Students now must walk across the parking lot to use a gymnasium attached to the high school.
In addition, the levy would have paid to remodel the middle school gymnasium into a band/music room. Proposal C failed by a margin of 700-453.
Still, school officials and a large community group that had worked diligently since December to pass proposals that were nearly identical to requests that were overwhelmingly rejected last June were elated with their .333 success rate last night.
“I was worried when we saw a high turnout that we were going to lose [Proposal A],” said Christine Bischoff, one of the co-chairwomen of the committee supporting the levy requests. “I think many parents were kind of passive before, but something clicked this time. I think people saw that the schools needed to be fixed.”
Whiteford voters in September, 1999, told board members they recognized the school was in disrepair, but the original $15 million request put before them was too much. Voters rejected the measure by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio.
The district responded with a “cafeteria-style” plan in June, splitting the $15 million plan into three requests that would allow voters to choose what direction their school should go. The tactic worked to some extent, narrowing the gap from the bond issue's previous defeat, but still, all three issues were rejected.
Mr. Gasidlo said voters finally approved the measure yesterday due, in part, to the work of the 35-member citizens committee and the fact that the school board didn't shrink from the challenge of re-proposing tax measures that had been defeated handily just nine months earlier.
“We had a good cross-section [of district residents who supported the measure],” the superintendent said. “Without those 601 people that voted yes, we'd still be looking at a bad roof and bad windows.”
Mr. Gasidlo said the board will begin working with architects and engineers soon in hopes of beginning the repairs during the summer months in 2002.