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11/8/2017 12:38:00 PM
Nearly 70 percent vote against $95 million referendum for West Clark schools
Kevin Guernsey says the referendum is a massive tax increase that wouldn’t benefit the kids “that much.” Staff photo by Josh Hicks
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Kevin Guernsey says the referendum is a massive tax increase that wouldn’t benefit the kids “that much.” Staff photo by Josh Hicks

Erin Walden, News and Tribune Education Reporter

CLARK COUNTY — West Clark voters rejected a $95 million school referendum on Tuesday, defeating the measure by a wide margin.

Just under 8,000 voters, out of 23,053 eligible, cast a ballot in the special election; 70 percent of those voted against the project. Voter turnout was 33.63 percent. Ballots totaled 7,752, which includes 5,402 no votes, 2,321 yes votes and 29 undervotes, where a ballot was taken but no vote cast.

The majority of ballots in Monroe, Carr, Union and Wood townships were against the project. In Silver Creek, whose schools would have received the most funding, support was mixed.

In Borden, William Mills II voted against the project because of its price tag, saying it’s “an awful lot of money to saddle us [with]... They’ve got to figure out a way to make due other than $95 million. ... I can’t justify it.”

Larry Smith also voted against the project, though his problem wasn’t with the cost, but rather the ambiguity around the proposal. “I voted no mostly because I don’t think the school board made it clear in what we’re voting on, and I don’t think they’ve been completely forthright with us,” he said.

After casting his vote, Henryville resident Cole Belcher said, “I’m a no vote and for one, I just think it’s way too much money to impose on the taxpayers. I think there’s a lot of wasted money being spent. I’m by no means against spending money. I’m just against spending that much money for the burden it will put on everybody.”

The road to the ballot box has been anything but easy. The district finalized the number in June after long meetings with serious discussions over whether or not even $95 million would cut it. At one point, the number reached $110 million and the board considered building a new Silver Creek High School offsite. However, compromise won out and the board voted 4-1 on renovating the high school and putting forth a $95 million referendum.

Input sessions, held with the intention to include the different communities in the planning process and garner opinions, revealed Henryville and Borden did not think Silver Creek would grow as rapidly as projected and that the project was an overbuild.

The outcome of the special election was known just after 8 p.m. Tuesday, a quick turnaround thanks to new equipment that brings “modernization” to voting in Clark County, easing the check-in process for voters and making tabulation of votes quicker.

“It was very user- friendly,” county Clerk Susan Popp said of the equipment. “And we didn’t haven’t issues outside of one absentee ballot.”

Superintendent Chad Schenck reflected on the lopsided vote.

“I’m disappointed. Clearly. Not devastated, but I am disappointed,” he said. “You have to respect the vote and the turnout. It was larger than what I predicted and what we were told to expect.

“We definitely want to continue on the path of academic successes as of late… that doesn’t happen by chance. Those things aren’t going away, we want to enhance those and improve upon those. Those things we need to focus on that may have been lost in the shuffle is doing what’s best for the kids, all kids. That’s our focus. Facilities are a part of that. There are things that have to be done.”

Related Stories:
• 'Doing nothing not an option:' West Clark schools voters reject $95 million referendum
• Opposition to $95 million West Clark schools referendum won't send political email
• Clark County auditor, West Clark superintendent hash out referendum tax impact
• Hammond schools looks to voters to borrow $110 million for new construction
• Hammond voters to decide on new high school, budget referendums Tuesday
• West Clark School Board votes to have Silver Creek secede after referendum failure
• What's ahead after West Clark schools elects to divorce Silver Creek from the district?
• Voters lean toward accepting Hobart schools referendum questions
• Hammond voters appear to favor $110.6 million school capital improvement plans

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