Editorial: Yep, $33 million bond was too much

The $32 million bond proposal to completely renovate Mount Abe Union High School failed dramatically. By a 3-1 margin, voters in the five-town district said “no way.”
But because the vote was so lopsided, it doesn’t serve as a barometer of how much district voters are willing to spend. That’s especially problematic if the school board is committed to presenting another bond proposal by Town Meeting 2015. To make that happen, a new proposal would have to be fleshed out and warned by the middle of January — just a bit over two months from now.
That doesn’t leave a lot of time or opportunity for public input to help shape the proposal.
Even if the number proposed was for what board members are calling the minimal amount needed to bring the building up to code — close to $12 million — it is likely the bond would fail. Why? Because it’s still a lot of money and the public won’t have a clear idea of what their best options might be. Some voters will reject the amount because it’s too high; others will reject it because it doesn’t do enough. The same could be said for a number that approaches $20 million, or $5 million.
What’s the school board rightly knows is that the $32 million bond vote got the public’s attention. Voters are engaged. It makes sense for the board to keep the engagement level high.
But the vote totals may suggest that residents are not just engaged, but ready to shoot bear. Rushing another vote to the table without explaining it to district residents is not likely the board’s best move.
More than 4,400 district residents voted Tuesday on the bond issue. Board members might ask how many of those 3,328 residents who rejected the bond have toured the facility, understand the challenges district students face, and understand why it is important to the economic future of each town to have a top-rate facility for middle and high school students. If most of those no votes are from folks who haven’t toured the facility, we’ll bet they won’t be in the mood to ante up what the board will want on the second go-around either.
If Tuesday is any indication, voters are in no mood for excessive spending. They expect every form of government to live within its means and be responsible stewards of taxpayer money. Just tossing another number and proposal out there and hoping it passes may not meet that test.
Angelo S. Lynn

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