Grafton voters approve bond referendum for new school
Unofficial tally shows nearly 80 percent in favor of building
GRAFTON – Voters came to the polls last Thursday to decide whether or not the Grafton School District may sell bonds in the amount of $14 million to build a new middle school and renovate and add on to parts of the current high school, Century Elementary and North Valley Career and Technology Center.
As of last Thursday’s unofficial tally, just under 80 percent of the voters agreed to let the district bond for the project, effectively setting it in motion.
There were two questions on the ballot. The school district needed 60 percent of voters to agree to the bond issue and 50 percent to agree with allowing the school to increase its debt limit by 5 percent on the assessed value of the taxable property of the school district beyond the 5 percent limit of indebtedness affixed by the constitution.
As of last Thursday, with 800 ballots cast in person and 68 absentee ballots counted, the question to allow the district to sell bonds for $14 million passed 687 to 177. A total of four ballots were ruled spoiled or unusable.
The second question passed by a slightly smaller margin, 635 to 229.
A total of 80 absentee ballots were sent out, according to business manager Cathi Heuchert. As of last Thursday, 68 absentee ballots had been returned. Since Thursday, two more absentee ballots came in, one was postmarked prior to Thursday, the other was not. The eligible ballot was in favor, making the final tally 688-177. Those results were made official today (Wednesday).
Grafton Superintendent of Schools, Jack Maus, said he was pleased with the turnout.
“It’s always nice when you get that many people to turn out to vote,” he said. “The 80 percent “yes” vote was higher than I expected.”
The vote will not become official until the canvassing board meets today (Wednesday) as part of the regular monthly meeting of the Grafton School Board.
Analyzing the results
Of the 800 people who walked in to cast their ballots last Thursday, 274 or 34 percent consented to answer questions as part of an exit poll conducted by The Walsh County Record. The exit poll survey contained three yes or no questions and one “essay” question asking voters to explain why they voted for or against the project.
Of the 274 responders, 85 percent answered all three questions as well as the essay question.
A total of 242 or 88 percent of the people who took the survey said they voted in favor of the bond referendum, which was slightly higher than the overall total.
Most responders, 254 or 93 percent, said the ballot was easy to understand. Just under two-thirds (65 percent) said they had children or grandchildren enrolled in Grafton Public Schools.
Out of the 97 responders who said they didn’t have children or grandchildren in school, 83 or 86 percent voted for the project. On the other hand, 47 percent of voters who voted “No” said they had children or grandchildren attending Grafton Public Schools.
The “No” vote
Among those surveyed who voted “No,” 24 percent felt that taxes were already too high and would eventually go up if the referendum passed.
“We were promised tax relief from the legislature. Where is it? Another school bond is no answer,” one response read.
“With the cost of everything rising and the need to repair so many things in Grafton – where will all the money come from?” was another response.
A total of 21 percent said the proposed new school is too big and/or too expensive. Another 17 percent of dissenting voters said that Central Middle School is adequate or could be remodeled to fit the needs of students. Seven percent said they were opposed to the location of the future Central Middle School.
Other concerns from those who voted against the project said that middle school students should be kept separate; the money would be better spent on flood protection, while others were concerned about the tax load on the elderly.
The reasons members of the Grafton School District voted in favor of the referendum were also varied.
The survey indicated that 65 of the 242 or 26.8 percent said that CMS was past its prime and/or it would cost to much to fix up the building that was first constructed in 1935.
The second most popular reason people voted in favor (16 percent) was that a new school would benefit and promote the community and contribute to the future growth of the city.
“Central school is close to 100 years old. It’s time for a new school and to attract more people to Grafton,” was one response.
A total of 33 or 14 percent of people said the district’s students deserved a better learning environment.
With the 50 mill tax relief from the state and a 1 percent interest loan, 12 percent said that the time was right for funding the project.
Other reasons for voting yes included the health and safety of students; having all students on one campus; and a new school was an investment in the future of Grafton’s children.
The next step in the process is to hire a construction manager and to hire an architect to work on the final design. A special meeting to do that has been set for Oct. 14.
Maus said a design committee comprised of 30-40 people will be formed to work on the final construction plan. He said he hopes to begin bidding out projects in February 2014.
Work on the project should begin, in the summer 2014. If things go as planned, the new school could be completed by the fall of 2015.