School Board Candidate Forum

Darryl James talks at a school bond candidate forum earlier this year.

Thom Bridge, Independent Record

The citizens involved in a campaign against the Helena school district’s June facility bond election say they’re not opposed to facility work; they’re against this specific bond.

The “All Kids Matter” campaign filed as a Ballot Issue Committee on May 11, according to records from the state office of the Commissioner of Political Practices.

“I think our main goal is to educate people,” Laura Ferguson, a committee member and parent of a student at Broadwater elementary, said.

“I think if people realize what the long-term implications of what this bond are, they will not want to vote for it,” she added.

The campaign committee is comprised of Ferguson, Darryl James, Karin Finley, Alan and Nancy Nicholson, Judy Merickel, Sidney Armstrong and Pam Attardo. James is serving as treasurer, but group members said they don’t really have a committee chair and each member brings a different perspective.

The bond issue they are opposing is a $70 million proposal touted as a solution to aging elementary schools. It includes building a new Jim Darcy and mostly new Smith, significantly expanding Warren and Rossiter and renovating Central. There would also be some renovation and added space at Bryant, Four Georgians, Jefferson, Broadwater and Kessler, as well as security and technology improvements at Hawthorne.

The committee plans to hit social media, go door to door and generally just encourage dialogue throughout the community. There is no financial goal and so far funds have just come in through the committee’s personal contacts.

Administrators of the Facebook page, “Save Helena’s Neighborhood Schools,” which launched about a year ago and has 1,900 likes, lashed up with the committee to provide support.

Several of the committee members said they've been meeting in various groups across town throughout the years of the bond-development process, and just met as a campaign committee two weeks ago.

“I think our group coalesced very organically, because when you stick with it over a long period of time you start talking with other people who are sticking with it over a long period of time,” Ferguson said.

Their opposition is in part founded by the board’s waffling on its proposal over the last several years, and dismissal of good points raised by knowledgeable community members, James said.

James has called for objective criteria to serve as the foundation for facility plans, and he said without that criteria the board has responded to vocal opposition in Helena.

“I think this plan is about buying votes and it has resulted in a very fiscally irresponsible plan,” he said.

The group also pointed out the lack of funds being allocated to address middle school needs.

“We are a K-8 district, not a K-5 district. This bond should address the middle schools,” Ferguson said.

The group has an alternative plan proposed on its website, and that’s just one option.

The committee called for the board to bring in more community involvement and advice to build a plan based on information, some of which is already available.

James said for that to happen, the community needs to recognize the scale of the problem the facilities are facing. He estimated the needed investment at upward of $200 million over the next 15 to 20 years.

The entire plan needs to be lined out, so voters know what will come next if they approve the first of several bonds, James said.

Karin Finley said the committee is fighting the fatigue of some community members, which might cause them to vote on this bond just to see something happen.

The group said they’re not planning to rally votes against the bond and then cut loose if it doesn't pass. They've agreed to stay involved in development of a new plan and a new bond.

“We’re in for the long haul,” Ferguson said.

The group is accepting donations through its website, allhelenakidsmatter.com.

Alexander Deedy can be reached at 447-4081 or alexander.deedy@helenair.com

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