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February 27, 2014

Elk Rapids voters say 'no' again

TRAVERSE CITY — Voters delivered a clear message to Elk Rapids Public Schools officials when they rejected a capital funding bond proposal for the second time in four months.

The millage proposal was slated to fund construction of a new high school gym, athletic facilities upgrades and school security improvements, but it lost by nearly 300 votes on Tuesday after originally losing by about a dozen votes in November, election results show.

“People were engaged and active, and there was a greater margin than last time,” school board member Aaron Cook said of the results. “The message certainly was louder than last time.”

School officials said they wanted to swing the November election’s small margin of defeat in their favor by educating voters about the ballot proposal ahead of a special February election, on which the district spent about $8,000.

Some people accused district leaders of trying to sneak the bond past voters in a special election while many elderly Elk Rapids residents were out of town for the winter.

School officials said those charges were unfair. About 500 more voters cast ballots in the second election than in the first.

“We really made such an effort to educate people about absentee ballot voting,” school board Vice President Nicole Graf said. “I think a lot of those snowbirds came forward and voted one way or another. It was an easy way for people to complain about it, but I don’t think it was based in any reality.”

The proposal, if approved, was expected to generate about $10.9 million for capital projects.

Superintendent Steve Prissel said the projects are now on hold for the foreseeable future.

“These projects, they’re not going to happen right now,” he said. “There’s no other money. We’re disappointed with that. We needed these projects to get our district moving forward.”

Prissel said school board members need to talk about revising the district’s capital plan in light of the millage defeat. The school board is scheduled to meet March 3 at 6 p.m.

Prissel did not know if board members will consider another ballot proposal any time soon.

“That’s going to be a discussion we have with the board,” he said.

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