There won’t be a school bond on the ballot in May.
Trustees decided unanimously Tuesday to delay the measure until the fall in a move they hope will give district officials more time to explain the plan and generate public support before launching a campaign.
As part of their vote, trustees promised to put forth the bond on or before the November general election — a commitment Superintendent Kent Kultgen recommended.
“We are going to have an election,” Kultgen said. “We’re going to put a bond before this public.”
Though Kultgen announced the motion “with great excitement,” he and trustees had hoped to put forth the bond in May, until mixed public response at a pair of meetings made the board hesitate.
“Postponing our vote gives me some pause,” trustee Ellen Feaver said Tuesday.
Feaver said she supports the proposal as written but is willing to wait so community members have time to understand the district’s academic needs and financial constraints.
“From my perspective,” trustee Cherche Prezeau said, “the most important piece is making sure we can pass the bond.”
Kultgen said during the meeting that the delay isn’t a sign of doubt in the proposal but rather a desire on the part of officials to better educate taxpayers.
“I really believe the steering committee gave us a good plan. I’m holding on to that plan,” Kultgen said. “I believe there’s a lot more questions out there and more information we need to get to the public.”
In her remarks consenting to a delay, Feaver also offered justification for the plan with respect to concerns raised by some community members for the future of neighborhood schools.
She argued that Helena’s smallest schools limit students’ access to specialized staff and make teacher collaboration less feasible.
“We have itty-bitty schools, not small schools,” Feaver said.
“I’m sympathetic with every community member who loves their school,” she continued. “Our job is to educate children. We cannot do what’s best for children in our current situation.”
Feaver then addressed calls by some residents for trustees to name schools that may be closed as a result of planned construction.
“As a board we have not discussed what school might be closed,” she said. “Our plan has been to look at enrollment in 2016 once these three projects are done, then determine what schools kids would best be served in.
“If our community demands that we name the schools today, we may name the wrong schools,” Feaver added. “We lose flexibility if we’re required to come up with those decisions today.”
The motion approved by trustees stipulates that the board will hold an election in fall 2014, and that the bond language will address displaced students and technology.
It also requires that, should that bond pass, school construction would be completed before the 2016-17 school year — the same date targeted in the original May plan.
The motion also leaves room for any “refinements” of the current proposal that may arise from further study.
In coming months Kultgen said he plans to assemble a group of stakeholders for what he called a “facilities 101 class” where officials can expound on components of the proposal.
The committee will include representatives from every school as well as some community members who spoke at recent meetings, Kultgen said.
Officials are now counting on a successful fall election in order to meet its construction timeline. The district must also frontload some building design work, Kultgen said, which could involve more detailed discussion and professional consulting about what each building might look like before the election takes place.
The delay will also push back the date when proposed modular computer labs can be installed at each school. Instead of coming online before the next school year begins, they couldn’t be up and running until the later portion of the academic year.
Holding a fall election will cost a bit more as well. The district will still hold a May election for trustees and its annual operational levy, while the additional fall ballot will cost up to $70,000.
Reporter Derek Brouwer: 447-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Derek on Twitter @IR_DerekBrouwer.