Sidney voters shot down a school bond on Tuesday that would have provided the funding for a new elementary school. It marked the third time in 17 months that voters have rejected the measure.
In what was considered a low turnout by election officials, voters cast 1,079 votes against (53.63 percent) the bond issue compared to 933 votes in support of it (46.37 percent).
“It’s disappointing,” said Sidney Public Schools Superintendent Jay Ehler. “I guess we will go back to the drawing board. The issue of old buildings is not going away. Unfortunately next time it’s going to cost more.”
Voters were asked Tuesday to decide on a nearly $19 million bond that would have been used to build a new school on donated land on the east side of town. It would have housed the kindergarten through fourth-grade students and replaced South and North Elementary Schools.
North Elementary was built in 1929, while South was constructed in the 1950s. School officials have pointed out that neither have the capability to handle 21st Century technology, are overcrowded and have numerous structural issues.
“I was confident this time that it was going to pass,” Ehler said. “This hurts. These schools are aged and need to be replaced. It's what is best for the kids and the community.”
Cheyenne County Clerk and Election Commissioner Beth Fiegenschuh said she was expecting larger numbers at the polls on Tuesday.
“I'm really disappointed in the turnout,” she said. “We had approximately 40 percent of our registered voters come out to the polls. We planned for a much bigger turnout, somewhere in the 75 percent or 80 percent range."
This is the third time the bond to fund a new school has been voted down at the polls.
In September 2013, the measure failed by 105 votes. In that election, 1,244 votes were cast against and 1,139 in support. Then in May 2014, voters defeated the bond by 64 votes. That count was 953 against and 889 in favor.
By law, the school bond can't be voted on again for at least six months and must be held on the second Tuesday of the month. That means the earliest a fourth vote on the school bond could take place would be Aug. 11 – two days before students begin the 2015-'16 school year.
“I’m sure the school board will look at the results and decide what to do going forward,” Ehler said. “There will at some point be a discussion and we'll reflect about what we've heard. There's a large group opposed to (the new school) and that's primarily because their property taxes would go up. We do understand that.”
School officials estimated that if the school bond had passed this time it would have cost property owners an estimated $120 annually per $100,000 worth of property.
“What’s best for kids and the community is a new building that is state of the art and will provide all the best opportunities for teachers and kids,” Ehler said. “We tried to take advantage of lower interest rates now and before construction costs go up more. Sooner or later we have to get this done. The issues of these older buildings won't just go away.”