CAVALIER, N.D. -- Cavalier voters again rejected -- this time by a sliver -- a proposed $10.9 million school improvement bond.
The referendum vote on Monday, Sept. 30, was 492 “yes”and 367 “no,” a majority of 57.27%. The issue needed a 60% super-majority to pass. In June, the referendum also failed to reach the threshold of a super majority. There were both fewer ”yes” and fewer “no” ballots cast in the June election, when the majority in favor of the bond issue was 56%.
The vote margins in June and September were much closer than eight years ago, when voters resoundingly voted against a proposed $11.5 million bond issue by a 75% margin.
Cavalier Public School District Superintendent Jeff Manley expected Monday’s vote to be close, he said on Tuesday, Oct. 1. In anticipation, community members and school staff, including teachers and administrators, had worked the past three months to get the word out about why they believed the bond issue should be passed. Proponents of the proposed school improvement project used social media and the school website to disseminate information, in addition to holding public meetings.
The improvement project would have included demolishing and rebuilding the 82-year-old elementary school and remodeling the high school. Meanwhile, the bond also would have funded making the entire school building handicapped accessible and in compliance with fire safety. Other improvements included construction of new special education classrooms and a commons area that would have been used by both the school and the community.
Voters who cast a “no” ballot appeared not to be in favor of the scope of the project, Manley said. While the "no" voters may have been in agreement with replacing the elementary school built in 1937, they weren’t on board with other parts of the project, Manley speculated.
That was made clear by a letter to the editor in the Sept. 25 edition of the Cavalier Chronicle. In the letter, Scot A. Becker expressed support for replacement of the 82-year-old building, which he said should have been done years ago, but was critical of other proposed improvements, such as new and expanded locker rooms and construction of the commons area.
Becker’s letter also questioned the school bond proponents’ assertion that the population of the school will continue to grow, noting that only in two of the past 10 years has the number spiked.
Becker’s letter challenged voters to “ask yourself what the population of this county has done in your lifetime and, in reality, do you see it increasing?”
Besides concerns about whether some of the school improvements proposed in the referendum were needed, Becker also was concerned about the financial burden that passage of the bond issue would have put on taxpayers. Higher taxes would have affected not only landowners and homeowners who live in the Cavalier School District , but also landowners who live outside of the district and own land inside of it, Becker said in the letter.
Manley understands the concerns of taxpayers, he said: “A big part of the area is agriculture-driven and, with the farm economy not robust right now, it’s tough for that sector of the population to feel good about increasing taxes. Some people can’t afford or don’t want to pay more taxes.”
Others might object to an increase in taxes because they don’t have students attending Cavalier Public School, Manley said.
Though Cavalier resident Curt Kirking doesn't have children attending school in Cavalier, he called the defeat of the bond referendum “very disappointing.”
“Nobody wants to pay taxes, but somebody helped pay for the taxes when my son went there. I’m a senior citizen, but I am paying it forward for the next generation,” Kirking said.
The Cavalier School Board and the building committee will meet to determine the next step, Manley said.
“There might be some small things that could be addressed with building fund dollars, which are separate from the general fund. We’ll have to see,” Manley said.
Kirking said he was unsure of what the school’s approach should be to addressing the school improvements issue.
Waiting to make repairs and do remodeling work may result in a more expensive project down the road, Kirking said.
“If we wait two years, instead of a $10 million project, we may get the same project for $12 million,” he said.