NLS board sends construction issue back to building committee
NEW LONDON -- The New London-Spicer School Board saw encouraging signs in a recent survey that another attempt to pass a building bond issue could succeed.
NEW LONDON - The New London-Spicer School Board saw encouraging signs in a recent survey that another attempt to pass a building bond issue could succeed.
But the board said they would also heed the not-so-subtle messages in the survey to do a better job of communicating with voters about any future project, and perhaps scale back the scope of the proposal.
At their meeting Monday, the board agreed to send the issue back to the building committee for a recommendation on what the board’s next step should be, including the option of putting the issue back to voters for a second try.
Even though the district could legally conduct another referendum this spring, that is not likely to happen.
Board Chairman Robert Moller said if another referendum is pursued, it would not likely take place until November “at the earliest.”
That extra time could give the project some of what it lacked last year, including detailed information and communication about the proposal and a volunteer vote-yes committee.
Many of the survey respondents said “we didn’t communicate very well,” Moller said.
Delaying a referendum until November would give the district time to get adequate information out to district residents “so people know what they’re voting for,” he said.
Waiting could also have positive financial consequences.
Some of the district’s existing capital bonds are expiring, which could make a new building project “cost neutral,” said Superintendent Paul Carlson.
Also, Sen. Lyle Koenen authored a bill this week that would exempt farmland from construction bond levies offered by schools, cities and counties.
In a news release, Koenen said the bill is an attempt to avoid “disproportionate taxation between residents who live in the metro and rural areas.” It would also mirror the provisions for ag land that apply to school operating levies.
In November, NLS voters soundly defeated a $14.6 million bond issue to build a performing arts auditorium, gym, fitness center, suspended walking track and cafetorium, along with a variety of remodeling projects that would have expanded educational space and improved student safety.
To help dissect the reasons behind the “no” votes, the board utilized a local consulting company, School Perceptions, to conduct a survey last month that asked people if they voted, how they voted and why those that voted against the bond did so.
There were 5,500 surveys sent and 972 returned, which is a nearly 18 percent return, said Deb Solsrud, from School Perceptions.
Of those that responded, 54 percent were over the age of 56.
“A lot of seniors vote,” said Solsrud.
Twenty-nine percent of those that took the survey have children attending NLS.
Of the respondents, 54 percent voted against the bond issue, 39 percent said they voted yes and 6 percent didn’t vote.
People who voted against it said the project was too big, too expensive, not necessary or included unnecessary items.
Despite that, a total of 75 percent said another referendum should be pursued – either a reduced and revised plan or the same proposal that had been defeated.
The remaining 25 percent said no action should be taken to address the district’s facility needs.
Carlson said the percentage of people who said another referendum should be conducted was “encouraging.”
When asked to rank the importance of the various components of the facility proposal, the performing arts center at the high school, the auditorium/cafeteria combo at the elementary school and a two-court gym were the top three choices for those who voted in favor of the bond issue in the November referendum.
Those that voted against it gave priority to safety and security improvements at the middle school, the auditorium/cafeteria at the elementary school and expanding the middle school parking lot.
Both groups ranked the suspended walking track and fitness center as the least important items on the list.
According to the survey, some thought the proposal should be split into two questions that would divide the athletic facilities from the rest of the project.