Updated: Voters say ‘No’ to South Summit School District bond measure
For the second time in three years, voters have rejected a measure that would allow the South Summit School District to borrow tens of millions of dollars to build a new high school.
The district’s $87 million bond measure failed by a margin of 123 votes, 1,304 to 1,181, according to a preliminary tally released Tuesday by the Summit County Clerk’s Office.
The bond would have paid for a new high school in Kamas. The proposed 215,000-square-foot facility was sought to address severe overcrowding issues plaguing the district’s current schools.
The bond would have cost approximately $358 annually for the owner of a $423,000 primary residence, according to district figures.
South Summit Board of Education President Suni Woolstenhulme said she was surprised when she saw the results Tuesday night, but was focused on coming together as a school board to involve the community in finding other solutions to overcrowding.
“Sometimes ‘no’ means just not right now, or sometimes ‘no’ means just look at it from a different angle,” she said. “I think people can just see things and, you know, see a way to solve a problem in different ways and I think that is perfectly fine.”
Some opponents of the bond have said cheaper alternatives to a new high school and athletic facilities were not adequately explored, like adding on to the existing high school or building a smaller elementary school to deal with immediate issues.
District officials countered that those alternatives did not solve the district’s problems and were not financially sound.
Now the district will have to turn to other options to deal with overcrowding, such as expanding the use of portable classrooms, Superintendent Shad Sorenson told The Park Record after the results were released Tuesday.
“Despite the community’s vote to not bond, our commitment to preparing our students for college and career readiness will not waiver,” Sorenson wrote in a text message. “Overcrowding will continue to be an issue, but we’ll do all we can to support, empower, and inspire individuals to promote and achieve academic and character excellence.”
The district uses four portable classrooms at its elementary schools. Sorenson said the district would pursue other short-term fixes, as well, and added that the district may consider future bonds.
Woolstenhulme said the Board of Education encourages members of the public to attend its Nov. 14 board meeting to discuss potential solutions and where to go from here.
“As a board, we really decided … we’re just going to focus on plan A — all of our time, energy and effort went into that,” she said. “Now it’s really time for us to get focused.”
In March, the South Summit Board of Education floated the possibility of a $90 million bond to build elementary and high schools, but decided against it after community pushback. The elected officials were told later in the year the new high school would cost $75 million, and sent that information to the public with a direct mailing.
In August, the board learned the project’s cost had jumped to $87 million because of increases in construction costs and issues with an access road, and board members expressed doubt a measure with that price tag would pass.
The high school’s capacity is 480 students with an enrollment of 470 this year, according to district numbers, and Sorenson said the elementary level is equally crowded.
The district will seek solutions as enrollment numbers are anticipated to rise as soon as next year. The schools are “bulging at the seams,” according to the high school principal, and the district is anticipated to add 800 students by 2028, pushing total enrollment to 2,500.
Tuesday’s preliminary results did not include ballots left in dropboxes after 3 p.m. on Election Day, any that were cast at polling locations, provisional ballots and mailed-in ballots with a postmark by Nov. 4 that had not yet arrived at the Summit County Clerk’s Office.
Summit County Clerk Kent Jones said there remain 700-800 ballots still to count across the county, but he did not expect the results of the bond measure to change.
A 2017 South Summit School District bond measure that also sought funding for a high school failed by a margin of 244 votes out of the 2,354 that were cast.
Woolstenhulme was on the board when that bond failed, as well, and at the time she said they heard feedback that the community was not given enough information about the proposal.
This time around, she said she was proud of outreach efforts by the board and school district. She agreed that a rejection by a more informed electorate was a different kind of loss, but said it did not change her opinion of the community she calls home.
“I really believe as a community — I absolutely in my heart and I know the other board members believe it — our community does value education, they do value the students in our district. … That’s what’s giving me hope right now,” she said. “I know that we’re going to come together and we’re going to find a solution to the overcrowding and … a way that we want to move forward as a community.”
Sorenson commented that the outcome Tuesday would have been different if fewer than 65 people had changed their minds.
North Summit Rec appears to eke out a win
The North Summit Recreation District may have been saved from possible dissolution by 10 votes.
According to the preliminary tally, 672 residents voted for a new property tax to fund the daily operations of the rec district, which mainly provides youth sports programming, while 662 residents voted against it. But with such a narrow margin, the result appears tenuous, as some ballots are yet to be counted.
The district’s director Nathan Brooks said he was cautiously excited about the preliminary results and feels confident the victory will hold.
Summit County Clerk Kent Jones said this is the only race in the county in which the result may be in question. It was not clear how many of the 700-800 ballots left uncounted are from North Summit voters. The canvass is scheduled on Nov. 18.
The measure seeks to raise $85,000 annually and might enable North Summit Rec to expand into adult offerings, Brooks has said. It would cost about $28.50 per year on a primary residence with $275,000 in taxable value.
Registration fees have risen, in some cases doubling, as the district has attempted to make up for budget shortfalls as Summit County has zeroed out its startup funding.
The county provided similar funding to other districts, which have found alternative ways to pay for their programming. Both North and South Summit recreation districts were told by the county in 2018 their funding would be zeroed out, though the timing was uncertain.
Other races around Summit County
Oakley was the only East Side municipality with a contested election, with five people running for three City Council seats.
Only 15 votes separate the third- and fourth-place finishers.
According to the preliminary results, the top three vote-getters were challenger Dave Neff, with 383 votes, and incumbents Joe B. Frazier and Tom Smart, who garnered 317 and 233 votes, respectively.
Les F. England was 15 votes behind, with 218 votes, and incumbent Lorrie J. Hoggan had 187 votes.
Smart said in an email that while his victory is not yet a lock, he is confident.
“I’m not really worried about it,” Smart wrote. “If I happened to lose I’d be completely supportive of Les — we’ve been friends for over thirty years.”
The new Oakley City Councilors will be sworn in at the first meeting of the new year, scheduled for Jan. 8.
In the South Summit Fire District race, incumbent chairman and longtime board member Kent Leavitt held onto his seat, while fellow incumbent John R. Moon lost to newcomer Jackson Coleman. The vote totals were 1,274 for Leavitt, 1,154 for Coleman and 822 for Moon.
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