Benzie Bond Fails Art

Children board a school bus at Crystal Lake Elementary in Benzonia in October 2019. The Benzie Central Schools bond proposal failed for a third time in 14 months, this time by a margin of 35 votes..

BENZONIA — The margin got slimmer, but the result was the same.

For the third time in 14 months, voters rejected a multi-million dollar bond proposal from Benzie Central Schools — this request failing by a mere 35 votes.

Those 35 “no” votes represent .07 percent of the total vote count of 4,861, a turnout higher by more than 1,600 voters from the November 2019 election and more than 2,100 from May 2019. Those measures also failed by 101 votes in November and 114 in May.

Asa Kelly, a second-grade teacher at Betsie Valley, said the first thing he did when he woke up Wednesday was to check his phone for the outcome, only to see the “sad result.”

“It’s kind of shocking,” Kelly said. “Thirty-five was a hard pill to swallow. So bitterly close that it’s almost unbelievable.”

Benzie County voters approved the proposal by seven votes — 2,252 to 2,245 — but votes from Manistee County (191-157 against) and Grand Traverse County (12-4 against) sunk the ship.

Benzie Central County Clerk Dawn Olney said she is in discussions with school officials about a possible recount but added that no petition has been filed yet.

Although Matt Olson resigned as Benzie Central superintendent in June to take a position at the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District, he told the board of education at the time that he would see the proposal “through to the finish line.”

The narrow defeat pushed that finish line further down the road.

Olson said Tuesday night before the final tally came in that district officials would take the request back to the public a fourth time if the proposal failed. The district’s needs, Olson said, simply are not going away — and will not go away — unless dollars are put into building new facilities and repairing old ones.

“I live here, my kids go here, and I care about this district desperately — that’s obviously why I want to see this win,” he said. “What are the other options? Not doing anything for our kids and our future? I just refuse to believe that’s an option.”

The proposal on the ballot Tuesday decreased the previously requested amount by $9 million, the term of the bond by five years to 25 years and the mill rate from 3.0 to 2.1 — although the request included the 0.9 sinking tax fund, which would have been taken off the table if the November proposal passed.

The highlight of the bond was the construction of a new K-5 elementary school to replace Crystal Lake Elementary.

“It’s disheartening,” Kelly said. “As a teacher, as a parent, as a coach, I’m invested in so many areas with so many hundred of kids. It’s easy for me to see the benefits, but it’s more challenging for others because they’re not in it and don’t have kids in it.”

Benzie voters approved two other proposals by wide margins — a 0.85-mill tax for senior services programs for another five years on a vote of 4,896 to 1,286, and a 0.9-mill jail operations tax on a vote of 3,914 to 2,202 for another three years.

Kelly said it is important to support the community, but he questioned where the community’s priorities are after seeing the school bond fail and the others pass.

“Why? Why would you so quickly vote ‘yes’ for a jail, but you would vote so quickly ‘no’ for schools?” he said. “That’s the confusing thing.”

Kelly said the confusion around the start of the new school year under the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued “misinformation and misconceptions” in the community about the bond likely contributed to it failing.

“People are confused, hurt, frustrated, sad, angry,” he said. “This would have been a great pick-me-up for this community.”

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