This is no time to relax. Nor is it a time to celebrate. The resounding failure of the $70 million Helena Public School bond on Thursday is more of a call to action than a referendum.
More people are engaged in the fate of our 11 elementary schools and two middle schools now than at any point in the recent past. They are engaged because they either supported or opposed the bond. But the community conversation that arose also served to provide a base of knowledge for the broader community to have a better discussion on how to move forward.
And move forward we must.
One thing seems clear from both sides of this debate -- something has to be done. Jim Darcy Elementary kids need an adequate school. Central Elementary students need an adequate school. The bill on the deferred maintenance plaguing the district is coming due. These may be the top three problems facing the district, but only three on a list of many. Roofs need replacing, outdated buildings need upgrading, safety issues have to be addressed.
We believe the bond’s failure to pass must be only a step in the process toward passing a bond or series of bonds to address the needs of our schools. This must be priority number one for the Helena community. Sure we’ve got other important issues facing taxpayers -- a detention center bond and levy that is likely to be on the ballot in November, and now discussion from the city commission about their own budget woes that may require a bond -- but we need to push for a solution on schools.
During the debate leading up to the bond vote, the opposition said a new bond could be put together quickly and efficiently. We hope that is the case. We don’t know what kind of time frame is reasonable, maybe it’s too early to know now. But the quicker we get started, the quicker it will happen.
Many of the school board members publicly threw their weight behind this specific bond. Many community members mobilized to push for this bond to pass. We all knew there was a lot riding on this vote. We all knew there would be winners and losers. But the vote is over now. We are all still Helenans engaged in the arduous process of figuring out how to move forward with the task of fixing our schools.
It is important that our leaders, both in the community and on the school board, step forward together and find a path toward a solution. We expect that both sides of the debate on the bond that failed will come together for a new proposal. We look to this leadership to capture the community engagement on this issue while it’s still piqued and consolidate viewpoints and ideas and produce a path forward that addresses the needs of the schools and students and is acceptable to voters.
The long, hard work it took to get this far must continue. As a community we must see this through until the solution is found.