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Levy increase fails despite majority support

Posted 6/30/15 (Tue)

By Jody Michael
A measure to increase the Divide County School District’s building fund levy failed to achieve the required supermajority of 60-percent for passage Tuesday last week.
The official tally had 88 votes for the measure and 79 against. With 52 percent of votes in favor, it fell short of the supermajority needed to pass.
The measure’s failure is a setback for the district’s efforts to get school repair plans back on track. Passage would have provided an additional $250,000 for what school officials have called increasingly necessary replacements of aging heating systems, roofing, windows, buses and more.
“It puts us in a pinch,” said School Board Vice President   Steve Feil. “That money still wouldn’t have paid for everything we need to do.”
Without that funding, superintendent Sherlock Hirning said temporary heating fixes will be the district’s top concern.
“We don’t want to stick a lot of money into repairing, because they need replaced completely,” Hirning said, “but the reality is we need to do something to get through the year and hope and pray it’s enough.”
Hirning said the building fund measure at least had more support than April’s measure for $20 million in bonds toward both renovating and expanding each building.
“It indicates that we’ve gone from 18 percent to 52 percent in favor of taking care of our needs,” Hirning said. “In that respect, that’s a positive note.”
Feil said he is still holding out hope that there’s a path forward for funding repairs.
“We have some avenues with state money,” he said, “but you never know how much you’ll get.”
The board has not yet decided how soon it will put another request for building funds on the ballot, or whether to attempt another bond measure.
“We’re going to have to work at getting the word out,” Feil said. “The money will be used for immediate needs.”
Board members refrained from making any such plans Monday in a special meeting held to canvass the election results.
Hirning did, however, pitch once again the idea of adding modular classrooms, saying it might be more feasible than continuing to seek public funding of the district’s full expansion plans.
If voter support remains timid, Board Member Shari DeJardine said, the school district might have no other choice for easing its lack of sufficient space for the increased services that schools now provide.
“I hate to think of using modulars, but we can’t get anything passed,” she said. “It’d be a good point to show the public, though. Do you want us to have to use these?”
Hirning said the district can lease a new six-classroom unit for $9,275 per month, or sign a rent-to-own contract and pay $11,255 per month for 36 months, a total of $405,180.
After hearing the cost, Board Member Jessica Busch said she would still prefer that voters OK the building expansions.
“I think, for the money, we’re better off adding real classrooms,” she said.
“It’s a lot of money on a temporary site,” DeJardine added.
The board opted to take no action on the offer at this time.
In the contests for school board seats, District 1 incumbent Holly Krecklau won re-election with 92 votes to challenger Jody Gunlock’s 68. District 3’s Shari DeJardine and at-large member Stephanie Reistad ran unopposed.
District will rent housing
The failure of last week’s measure also influenced the board’s decision not to purchase any more teacher housing, with members voting instead to pursue rental units for several remaining teacher openings.
But the board’s primary reason for reaching this decision was a recent search for available rental units in the area, which yielded far more than enough results.
Ken Krebsbach had offered the district a house he is renovating into a triplex during a meeting two weeks earlier, but board members decided against this.
Despite the newfound availability of housing, Hirning said job applicants are still expecting the district to help them secure something relatively inexpensive.
“The way it’s been with teachers, that’s the first thing they ask you,” he said. “If you don’t have anything to show them before they leave town, they feel uncomfortable and won’t come back.”
The consensus from the board was to hold onto a handful of the most affordable rental units for the summer. 
Incoming teachers can then choose one of those or look for something nicer if they prefer.
Board Member Stephanie Reistad said this makes more sense financially than it would to own more housing outright.
“I’d rather, personally, lose a few months’ deposit and have no one take it than spend money we don’t really have,” she said.

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