Mead School District board members had no time to get over their collective shock at voters’ rejection of a supplemental levy.
On Wednesday afternoon, board president Carmen Green and her colleagues were back at work and dealing with some new realities following the resounding defeat of the $14.6 million levy proposed to mitigate some of the cuts made last spring.
“We were pretty disappointed,” said Green, who had expected the levy to pass, albeit narrowly. Instead it won only 42% approval with 58% opposed.
The effects of Tuesday’s vote were immediate. Had the levy passed, the board was prepared to authorize planning for a 10th elementary school. Now those plans are on hold.
“We voted to table our decision for up to a year,” Green said Wednesday night after the meeting, which drew a public audience.
“There was a lot of discussion, some communication and some feedback,” Green said.
During the campaign, Green and other school officials heard disquieting feedback from voters.
Some taxpayers felt that the board acted too soon and gave away too much in teacher contracts in 2018. Those raises averaged 15% – the highest in the region – and were negotiated before other districts weighed in.
“They felt like we should have waited longer, and that we were financially irresponsible,” Green said.
Other constituents resented the closure of Riverpoint Academy and M.E.A.D. Alternative School and the fact that those programs wouldn’t have been rescued even had the levy passed.
The board attempted to be transparent last spring in holding open meetings before making $11.5 million in cuts, but Green said some voters felt they “weren’t part of the entire process.”
“The thing is, that $11 million doesn’t come easily out of a budget,” said Green, who said the board attempted to “touch as few students as possible in the cuts.”
While the levy had no organized opposition, it drew criticism from board candidates John Hatcher and Michael Cannon.
Hatcher lost to 34-year incumbent Bob Olson, but Cannon ousted Dorcas Wylder in part because of the levy.
“I’m not anti-levy,” Cannon said. “But I didn’t think the timing of the levy was great, and the board misread how voters felt.”
“There seems to be a feeling among some people that they feel detached from the process. I hope I can help bridge that gap,” Cannon said.
Cannon said he hopes the backlash doesn’t affect future bond and levy elections in a district that historically has given support to education.
“I just hope we didn’t kill the golden goose,” he said.
Cannon said he’s optimistic that first-year superintendent Shawn Woodward will play a big part in helping the district regain its fiscal footing.
“He uses a lot of language around prioritization and strategic planning, and I think that’s the right approach to make sure that people are back on the same page,” Cannon said.
Green hopes to do the same, but said the district needs to look at budget projections for the next year “and have some conversations” with the Mead Education Association, which represents the district’s teachers.
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