Voters in Williston gave a resounding "no" on Tuesday to a proposed $55 million bond issue and a 10 mill increase for the school district building fund.
The vote on the bond issue was 1,415 against and 951 in favor. It needed 60 percent of voters to give their approval to pass and had 28 percent.
The school district building fund vote went down with 1,380 "no" votes and 578 "yes" votes.
If it had passed, the bond issue would have paid for construction of a new elementary where Rickard Elementary is located and a new 5-8 middle school where Wilkinson Elementary is located. The old buildings would have been torn down. The third phase of the project called for renovation of the high school.
Williston school board president Susan Brokaw said Wednesday the defeat of the bond issue and the building fund mill levy increase means the board will now have to look at areas it can cut back.
"We're going to have to put a Band-Aid on the existing structures that we have," said Brokaw. She said modular classrooms that are currently in use are as old as 35 years old and "they have outlived their useful life." Brokaw said the board will try to get kids back into the main school buildings but will likely have to increase class sizes to do it. The student-teacher ratio is at about 20 to 1 and it may have to increase to 25 to 1 or more. Brokaw said the district will likely also have to look at cutting from extracurricular programs to save money.
Williston's student numbers have increased by 600 students during the past four years and there are currently 2,806 students in grades K-12.
Brokaw said she believes the vote likely failed because those who came out to vote were largely senior citizens and others on a fixed income, while parents didn't vote in the numbers they had expected. "Who wants their taxes to go up?" said Brokaw.
Brokaw said many people seem to believe that the state should pick up more of the tab for new school construction and renovation and other infrastructure. Brokaw said she thinks Williston is in the running for some of the funding that will go to school districts impacted by the oil boom but Williston's share would likely have been greater if voters had approved a bond issue and building fund mill levy increase. Brokaw believes that the Legislature will favor a dollar for dollar match on any grants that are awarded, meaning the school district would have to pick up a large share of the cost.
Brokaw also said that construction costs are 40 percent higher in western North Dakota than they are in eastern North Dakota. It would help western North Dakota school districts if the Legislature would consider paying for the difference between what it costs to build in the east and in the west, she said.
Brokaw said a delegation from the Williston school district will testify before the Legislature in support of the district getting oil impact dollars and they will see how it goes.