Updated at 12:35 Friday
Stoking better voter turnout has emerged as a top priority for the Jordan School Board, as the district eyes a date for a possible second run at a levy and bonding referendum.
On Nov. 5, Jordan voters rejected a $39.5 million public schools referendum that would’ve raised the district’s operating levy closer to the state average and approved building bonds for multiple projects, including a new early learning services building.
On Tuesday night this week, the school board returned to the drawing board to weigh options. The soonest the district could hold a vote to raise the levy is this spring, but that’s unlikely since it would be a mail-in ballot election and would not include bonding requests.
“I would recommend strongly against doing a mail ballot,” Superintendent Matt Helgerson said. “I don’t think that’s wise.”
Outside of the levy measure, the district is required to wait six months before making the same bonding request to voters. But that may not come into play, as the school board acknowledged the possibility of reworking the referendum proposal next time around.
Helgerson said community input could prove extremely valuable when it comes to learning why residents voted the way they did — or why some didn’t vote at all.
“This is unscientific, but I can tell you that our townships voted in full force, our parents did not and it’s really that simple,” Helgerson said.
“Our employees that live and breathe in the elementary school every singe day — they didn’t feel a need to come out and vote,” board member Rob Langheim said. “Our families that have elementary school kids that go to that facility every single day, that see the parking, that see the lines — they didn’t come out and vote and we need to better understand why.” The board touched on the option of conducting a community survey to determine constituents’ sentiment, tolerances, values and priorities relating to school finances.
“Our needs remain, so perhaps working to better understand our community’s thoughts via a professional survey would be a good option, prior to moving forward with a new plan or another vote,” Helgerson wrote in his report to the board. Members of the board acknowledged that tax impacts were a concern among voters on Election Day. But even though Jordan’s per pupil levy is nearly $500 below the state average, Helgerson said it’s still difficult for the district to request additional funding due to “high taxes” in Scott County.“ Scott County is building a new government center — or at least a significant part of a government center — and I’m pretty sure none of us at the table got a chance to vote. They just do it,” Helgerson said. “Why, as school districts with the most vulnerable group of people, our littlest, do we have to ask for every penny that we get? It’s very frustrating ... this is just not a fair funding system.”
Following the rejection of a levy increase, district officials anticipate budget reductions of $200,000-$400,000.
“Question one, as we know, was all about operating funds,” Helgerson said. “As we do our revised budget and get the audit report finalized we’ll know a little but more about what number we’ll need to hit in terms of a target.”
The failure of both bonding questions means the district will also need to make important budgeting decisions regarding maintenance necessities at the elementary school, possible abatement bonds to address parking and driving congestion and find solutions for the growing space concerns at the elementary school.
“All of those have pros and cons and it’s something we’ll have to weigh as we move forward,” Helgerson said.
The school board will also decide what to do with the house and farmland on unused school property that would’ve housed the proposed early learning services and recreation buildings. The house is currently vacated and is scheduled for maintenance.
Helgerson indicated in his report that many of these decisions need to be made before January. The board is expected to outline essential allocations and non-negotiable items at their retreat later this month before moving forward with budgeting.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote to Tom Vogel. The article has been updated to attribute the quote to Rob Langheim.