Park City School District $56 million bond fails
November 4, 2015
After months of contentious debate surrounding the Park City School District’s $56 million bond, voters hit the polls Tuesday to cast their final ballots to settle the issue.
What they said was clear: We want another option. The bond measure failed, with 3,001 votes against (60.69 percent) and 1,944 in favor (39.31 percent) of the sweeping plan that would have dramatically changed the district’s facilities.
Joe Cronley, a member of the anti-bond group Citizens for Better Education, which made its presence known in the weeks leading up to the election, said Tuesday evening that the result shows that voters were not comfortable with the plan the Board of Education had created for the future of the district.
He added that he was hopeful that the Board will listen to the voters and gather wide-ranging input before moving forward with other proposals.
"I think we’ve been all about collaboration and dialogue, and I think that resonated with a lot of the voters," he said. "We hope that the school board takes note of that and is open to this dialogue and collaboration with not only the parents and residents in the school district, but also city and county officials."
Cronley also said he was not surprised by the margin by which the bond failed, despite a perception in the public that the race would be close.
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"We presented a good campaign," he said. "I think the school board, their plan and campaign strategies were questionable to a lot of the voters. And I think that affected the outcome."
The district has maintained that the bond was crucial to keep up with the strain of rising enrollment and to meet the best interests of Park City students.
Ember Conley, superintendent, said Tuesday evening that regardless of the vote, the district still has urgent needs that must be met.
"Our schools are over capacity, and we have the expectations of the community to deliver a high-quality, excellent, innovative education," she said.
Phil Kaplan, a member of the Board of Education, echoed Conley’s sentiments and added the district’s next step is evaluating why the opposition’s messages connected with voters more than the pro-bond arguments.
"The ‘no’ campaign put together a coalition that had a number of talking points," Kaplan said. "Some of them were sort of factually based, taking facts and presenting them in a certain way. And some of them were more emotionally based. To me, what I’d like to do is understand which of those points resonated. Because clearly there were a combination of messages that got enough people motivated to go and vote no.
" All thoughts have to turn to, ‘OK, now what?’" he added. "Because you can’t move backwards. You can only move forward."
The bond would have paid for several capital projects that would have reshaped the district, including the following: Park City High School expansion and gym remodel ($27.5 million); a new fifth- and sixth-grade school at Ecker Hill campus ($24.8 million); improvements to McPolin Elementary School, including moving the parking lot ($1.4 million); athletic facilities improvements ($12 million).
In addition to the $56 million from the bond, the district had planned to use slightly more than $10 million from its capital reserves to complete the work, which also would have included demolishing Treasure Mountain Junior High.
The 20-year bond would have cost homeowners of an average primary residence valued at $639,000 a total of $123 a year, or roughly $19.25 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.
The Board of Education has previously talked about potentially raising the capital levy tax to fund the projects as a backup plan if the bond failed. Kaplan said Wednesday that the opposition’s characterization of the district’s discussions about the tax as a threat to voters was overplayed. He added that the Board will have to evaluate all options for moving forward but that raising the capital levy tax to fund the whole set of projects is not viable.
"To do a project of this magnitude with the capital tax levy is just not smart," he said, adding that that’s the reason the Board elected to go to bond in the first place rather than impose a tax increase. " I don’t support it as being a good way of paying for something of this scale and scope of projects."
Conley said that, despite the election’s outcome, she remains confident that the district can solve the problems it’s facing in a way that will gain public support.
"The one thing I know is we have a great governing Board that’s dedicated to doing what’s best for our students," she said. "We have a community that’s engaged and intelligent, and I have no doubt that we’ll continue to move forward."
Debate about the bond swirled in recent weeks, with both sides waging aggressive campaigns, hoping to lure voters on Election Day. The controversy reached a fever pitch last week, as electioneering allegations lobbed at both the district and Citizens for Better Education resulted in the Summit County Attorney’s Office opening an ongoing investigation into any potential wrongdoings.
Summit County Attorney Robert Hilder said last week that the outcome of that investigation will have no bearing on Tuesday’s election results.