In a meeting where the Williston Public School District No. 1 board heard that its school funding proposals fell short by between 1.5 and 2.3 percent short, it unanimously approved putting the proposals to a vote again in April.
The official results for the Jan. 8 election were 1,382 in favor of a bond of up to $60 million and 979 opposed, and 1,361 in favor of increasing the district’s building fund property tax levy and 996 opposed. That puts 58.5 percent in favor of the bond and 57.7 in favor of the building fund increase. Both required 60 percent approval to pass.
The board voted 4-0 to put the same questions back on the ballot for a special election set for April 9. That is 90 days after the last election, the soonest allowed by law.
If the bond vote were to fail again, the district would have to wait 12 months before it could call another election.
Board member Dr. Theresa Hegge pointed out that the majority of voters wanted the plan, meaning it made sense to ask the question again.
“In listening to that, we understand the majority of voters are in favor of this plan,” she said.
She noted that there was a 17 to 18 percent increase in the number of yes votes compared to the election results from a March 2018 bond referendum, when about 59 percent of voters rejected a $77 million bond.
Hegge also said that the number of no votes was fairly consistent between the two elections. In March, there were 916 yes votes and 1,293 no votes.
Hegge also supported putting the same questions to the voters again.
“Our needs haven’t changed,” she said. “Unfortunately, that means the plan doesn’t change that dramatically.”
The funding from the increase in the building fund levy and the bond of up to $60 million would be used to build two new elementary schools, an addition to Williston High School and upgrades to the district’s existing elementary schools.
Board President Joanna Baltes said that one question she heard in the lead up to the Jan. 8 election was about getting more help from the state to build schools. Baltes, board Vice President Thomas Kalil and district superintendent Jeffrey Thake were going to Bismarck Monday night after the board meeting to testify in favor of several bills that would give more state money to help with buildings.
One bill, sponsored by state Sen. David Rust, R-Tioga, would give a grant of up to $15 million to school districts that have experienced major growth. Kalil noted that in order to be eligible for that grant, the district would have to pass an increase in its building fund property tax levy.
Hegge pointed out that if the district did get money from the state, that would decrease the amount it would bond for, which would also decrease the property tax burden.
Thake said he was pleased with the increase in the number of people who voted yes from March to January.
“We need more people to come to the polls to exercise their right to vote,” he said. “That is the only thing that’s missing right now from this special election that we did.”