After certifying the results of the May 14 election, where the push for a bond for new schools fell about 80 votes short, the school board for Williams County Public School District No. 8 is considering what to do next.
The arrival of two absentee ballots — both of which voted no — meant the final, official total on District 8’s push for an $89 million bond was 259 for and 305 against, or 46 percent for and 54 percent against. The vote on whether to increase the district’s debt limit was similar, with 246 votes — 44 percent — for and 318 — 56 percent — against.
The money would have been used to build two 600-student elementary schools and a 600-student high school.
After certifying the election totals, board members discussed what comes next, including when — and whether — to hold another election. The soonest the board could set it for is in mid-August, but members all seemed to agree that a longer wait made sense.
Board member Curt Sullivan suggested that voters needed to hear that the options were either pass a bond to build schools or dissolve the district. He pointed out that since the district was formed in 1950, voters have never OK’d a school bond.
“If they’re not going to pass a bond, we’re sitting here beating our heads for nothing,” he said.
The board discussed the possibility of reaching an agreement with Williston Public School District No. 1 to help pay for part of an addition to Williston High School. That idea was brought up two weeks ago, when members of both boards talked about enrollment for the 2019-20 school year.
Board Vice President Deanna Senior said the District 8 board should look at how that might work, because the vast majority of the district’s 220 high school students go to WHS, which is overcrowded.
Members of the District 1 school board have said they might not be able to accomodate District 8 students after next year.
“Now we’re in a position where we don’t know if our kids are going to have a place to go to high school in a year or two,” Senior said.
Board member Penny Soiseth said she would be in favor of continuing to work with District 1, but not with asking District 8 voters to pass a bond to pay for a school in another district, even if District 8 students attended it.
District superintendent Rob Turner asked what voters might prefer.
“What would our constituents rather support?” he asked “Would they rather have our own high school or a joint building?”
After more discussion, the board considered the possibility of setting an election in the fall for the same amount. Senior, however, along with board member Amber Anderson, both questioned the wisdom of that.
“We’re not 100 percent sure that’s what we want,” Senior said. “It just didn’t pass and we haven’t taken a breath.”
In the end, the board took no action on setting a new election date, but did ask Turner to start work on a survey to send to residents about what they would support. The plan that failed last week was based on a survey that between 100 and 150 residents filled out, and board members hoped they could expand that to find a plan with more support.
Board President Jenny Jorgenson said she thought working with the public both before and during the process would help.
“I think if we do it again, we just need to educate a whole heck of a lot more, both the school board and the yes committee,” she said.