BENZONIA — Third time wasn’t the charm. Neither was the first or second time.
But Benzie County Central Schools officials hope to be the exception to that rule about “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The district — for the fourth time in less than 18 months — will ask voters to approve a capital projects bond that will go toward building a new elementary school, adding two classrooms to another school and upgrading infrastructure, technology and facilities at all schools.
The previous failures have not been resounding defeats.
The first measure failed by 101 votes in November 2019 and then 114 in May of this year and again by a mere 34 votes in August.
Benzie Superintendent Amiee Erfourth said the loss in August hurts all the more because nearly 7 percent of the people who voted in the election simply did not vote for or against the millage at all. That amounts to about 406 voters whose voices were not heard.
The bond proposal was the only item on the back of the ballot. Erfourth ventured a guess that is why so many of those bubbles were left blank.
“If it doesn’t pass this time, we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board and really look at what’s happening,” Erfourth said.
The highlight of the 25-year, $39 million proposal is the construction of a new kindergarten through fifth grade elementary school, which will replace Crystal Lake Elementary and be built at the main campus.
Other projects include adding two early education classrooms to Lake Ann Elementary; replacing the roofs at Lake Ann, Betsie Valley and the middle and high schools; upgrading HVAC systems; remodeling the science labs; increasing security measures; building a new bus garage and buying new buses every year for the next decade; and improving technology throughout the district.
The request decreases the amount sought by a little more than $9 million and the mill rate from 3.0, which would have been a 1.4 increase, to 1.99 — a 0.39 increase. The annual increase for a home per $100,000 of taxable value would be $39. The district will also continue to collect the .9 mill sinking fund, which brings in $700,000 a year to manage any urgent needs.
Former Benzie Superintendent Matt Olson, who is working with the advocacy campaign for the bond, said the bond not passing would make Benzie the lowest tax district in the region — which Olson said is “not a good thing.”
“This isn’t whimsical,” Olson said. “That means we are investing the least amount of money into our schools. That’s not good for anyone.”
The proposals have struggled to gain support in areas served by Platte River Elementary. The Benzie Board of Education shuttered Platte River in 2017 because of declining enrollment, a move that did not sit well people in those communities.
Erfourth said many of those people have “a lot of history and tradition with Platte River and Crystal Lake.” Erfourth said the district can keep the traditions alive while providing a better education for students.
“They don’t want to see those schools go, and I understand that,” she said. “But don’t our kids deserve better?”
Gayle Smith is one of those holding on to history and tradition.
The 55-year-old went to Crystal Lake in 1974 and now lives less than a mile away from Platte River in Honor. She scoffed at the proposed tax hike and said building a new school is “something that shouldn’t be done.”
Smith said she is firmly secured as a “no” vote Nov. 3.
“They need to reopen Platte,” she said.
Smith couldn’t do much but shake her head when asked about the district’s fourth attempt at getting the bond passed.
She questioned why the measure is even allowed to go back to the public for a vote after failing three times.
“I can’t believe it,” Smith said. “I’m in awe. I have no understanding of why they’d do that.”
Valerie Gerhart, part of the Yes for BC Kids campaign, said she has a simple explanation.
“I’ve heard those who vote no say, ‘When are you going to quit and realize we don’t want to pass the bond?’” My answer — quitting is not an option,” she said. “We can’t quit on our kids. We hold the power. They can’t vote. We are responsible for their well-being.”
Olson said the campaign has put up nearly 750 yard signs and put door hangers on thousands of knobs. He hopes the final push over the next few weeks will tip the scales in their favor.
“We just have to get over the hump,” he said. “It won’t take much, but we still need a lot.”