District 27J board gets update on polling ahead of bond, mill-levy ballot decision

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Superintendent expected to make recommendation at next regular school board meeting

By Crystal Nelson

BRIGHTON — The School District 27J Board of Education is one step closer to determining whether it will pursue a bond and mill-levy override in the November election. During its Aug. 12 planning session, board members saw the district’s latest polling data and were able to ask questions before Superintendent Chris Fiedler makes his recommendation to the board next week.

Results from a poll from the end of July show that 54 percent of those polled would support a $148-million bond measure while 43 percent of those polled were opposed. When asked if they could support a $7.5-million mill-levy override, 49 percent of those polled said they would, while 47 percent were opposed. The number of those polled who would support a mill-levy override increased to 57 percent if the mill-levy override was set at $4.5 million.

The poll also revealed challenges the district will face in an upcoming election would include being able to reach voters who aren’t parents and combating the perception the district wastes money.

Chief Operations Officer Terry Lucero said that while parent support for the ballot measures is strong, there are people in the community that the district doesn’t communicate so well with, such as senior citizens. He asked if someone doesn’t have a student in the district, it’s difficult to tell what message they’re getting about the district.

Board member Greg Piotraschke was concerned by the number of people who thought the district was wasting its money. He said that after being on the board for one and a half years, and seeing how the district works, he knows it isn’t true.

“I wish I could put my fingers on the pulse to quash those rumors, but I have no idea where they’re coming from,” he said. 

Strategies 360, the company that conducted the poll, concluded the proposals don’t have a strong base of support, and current levels of support are likely to shrink as election day draws closer. It recommends that if the district moves forward with potential ballot measures, success will depend on a strong turnout among young voters and parents, who are more likely to support the measures, and that the district should focus on funding the basics to address overcrowding.

Lucero helped the board explore its options, which included either going out for a bond and a mill-levy override, just the bond measure, just the mill-levy override, or opting against pursuing either this year. Lucero explained that there is risk in all the scenarios, but that the Quality Schools Initiative Committee made its recommendation based on the idea that around $20 a month, per $217,000 average home value, would be affordable to residents.

Piotraschke wanted to know what the district’s recommendation would be if the bond passes and the mill-levy override doesn’t and the district doesn’t have enough money to staff the school.

Fiedler said historically the district has provided the revenue to open the new buildings based upon its growth, however at that time, the district was funded at 100 percent by the School Finance Act. He said the district is currently funded at 86 cents on the dollar, and in the absence of a mill-levy override, they would struggle to make it work.

After a question from board member Roberta Thimmig, Lucero explained that if the mill-levy override passes and the bond fails, the district will have to go to year-round school. He said the mill-levy increase cannot cover the cost of going to year-round schools. 

DeYoung explained the district wouldn’t be able to use the mill-levy override funding because it has to be used for its specific designation. She also expressed concern that it could hurt the district’s public perception regarding finances.

Board President Patrick Day said the district needs more space for its students and that it doesn’t have the luxury of opening schools on current operating revenue like it did in 2006. He said he would like the superintendent to recommend the district but both measures on the ballot.

“I can’t see placing one on the (ballot) and not the other. That’s going to be really hard and affect our current schools even more if we don’t have the mill to open new schools.”

Fiedler pointed out the district hasn’t asked for a ballot measure of any kind in the last three years. He said the last successful bond was eight years ago.

“I can tell you this system I stressed already and when I consider stressing that with year-round calendars or extended day calendars that... further stressing it would be problematic for our kids and their success.”

He told board members that regardless of his recommendation, he knows they understand the needs of the district. Fiedler will be making his recommendation to the board during next meeting, where the board is anticipated to make a decision. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Aug. 26 at North Elementary School.