Once again, the Smithville School District has failed to get the result it wanted when voters cast their ballots on Election Day.
The school district won only 45 percent support for a tax increase that would have funded a third elementary school to open in the fall of 2016.
For Superintendent Todd Schuetz, it’s not a question of if, but when, he and the school board will offer a similar proposal to the community again.
“We absolutely have to go back to the voters,” he said. “We owe that to our students. Our job is to provide the best quality education possible and we’re not able to do that right now.”
The proposal would have increased the tax rate by 79 cents for each $100 of assessed property value, adding $150.10 a year to the tax bill on a $100,000 home. It would have been the first property tax increase since 1997.
Nonetheless, Schuetz was encouraged that a large number of residents chose to get involved in the democratic process. There wasn’t a time when he drove past polling places Nov. 4 that he did not see a packed parking lot.
Nearly 2,000 more people went to the polls last week than in April 2013, when a larger, 91.75-cent tax boost got less than 40 percent support.
“We have a civically engaged community,” Schuetz said. “They care about their community and where their tax dollars are going.”
Michelle Kruse, one of the leaders of the group Smithville Power of One who supported the vote, agreed with Schuetz that the construction needs to take place.
“Our kids are out of space, so we will try again,” she said.
District enrollment, which now stands at 2,515 students, has grown more than 20 percent since 2005-06 when 2,070 students were enrolled.
According to Schuetz, the earliest the school district can put the measure on the ballot is April, but the school board must approve doing so in a January meeting.
An unknown factor in the election was the recent departure of Smithville High School Principal Rudy Papenfuhs. He resigned after the school district published a list of complaints that he violated district polices on many different occasions. Many patrons vocally supported Papenfuhs.
Backers of the tax proposal had urged voters to keep the two issues separate. But Schuetz said he could not rule out the possibility that the controversy might have generated some “no” votes, especially with the attention it had gotten in Smithville and the surrounding area.
“There were definitely people in the community that feel like that alone could have tipped it in that direction,” Schuetz said. “Whether it specifically did or not, I can’t say. We don’t have that research.”
Regardless, the district now has to move on with what Schuetz calls some of its “bad-to-worse” solutions since the district has not been given more space. Those include boosting class sizes, holding class on the multi-purpose room stage in some elementary schools and bringing in more mobile classroom units.
“Those create some security concerns,” he said. “You can’t secure (mobile units) like you can with people inside the building.”
For now, Schuetz and other proponents of the new school must process the information and figure out their next move.
“We’ve engaged 1,700-plus people,” Kruse said. “We have terrific stuff going on in our community as a group.”