BigOrangeEV

The Big Orange mascot at Easton Valley was still smiling last week after the Sept. 11 vote, as a massive 64 percent of eligible district voters turned out to approve nearly $10 million in school improvements.

On its third attempt, Easton Valley voters passed a $9.95 million bond that will tear down the three-story section of the Miles elementary school and replace it with new classrooms and facilities. It will also be used to improve security at the high school and build a new ag and science lab.

The $9.95 million referendum passed Sept. 11 by 65.02 percent of the 1,901 ballots cast, according to unofficial results.

Satellite voting at a high school football game and elementary school event increased voter turnout, which was 553 voters higher than for the last bond referendum attempt in February. Easton Valley and Bellevue bond referendums were the first to make use of satellite voting in Jackson County.

On Sept. 12, the mood was bright at a group picture outside the elementary school in Miles, with staff and “yes vote” committee members exchanging quick hugs and high fives. Students and staff posed with the district’s Big Orange mascot outside the school, and sixth graders Alia Schmidt, Abby Bierman, Jenna Roling and Austin Thompson said they were excited that the vote passed, even though they’ll be in high school before elementary construction is completed.

“I think the satellite voting really helped us,” Schmidt said.

“If people just walked around our school, they’d see why we really need it,” said Roling. “Right now, ceilings are falling down in the library.”

Last January, plaster fell in at least one classroom, and a few weeks before school started, a few hundred pounds of plaster fell from the ceiling into the library. With the vote pending, the school district decided not to spend $150,000 to fix the issue, which stemmed from moisture seepage, and converted two locker rooms into classrooms. The library moved into the commons area.

Fourth grader Johnny Gillen said he couldn’t go to the new library space since he broke his femur and has been using a walker.

“We didn’t need to pump money into an old building,” said school board member Gary Cassaday after the bond passed. “We needed a new building.”

EV Superintendent Chris Fee said the school board hasn’t yet recommended a plan for new construction, but work will most likely start mid-school year this year and continue through the following school year. In that case, the new elementary in Miles would be scheduled to open in just under two years, at the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

In the meantime, students would move into the now-vacant elementary school in Preston for 18 months.

Those opposing the vote weren’t expressing that opinion audibly at the elementary school the next day. At least two mailers had gone out encouraging a “no” vote, but they were unsigned, according to several people who received them.

In its first bond vote attempt in June 2017, 1,185 voters voted 51.65 to 48.35 percent in favor of the bond, below the 60 percent minimum approval required. In its second attempt, participation jumped to 1,348 voters who voted 57.2 to 42.73 percent in favor—38 votes short of passing.

The passing Sept. 11 vote included 989 in-person voters and 912 absentee (including satellite) voters. The satellite voting at the concession stand on the football field and at the elementary school during “Unpack Your Backpack” were triggered by 100 district petitioners, as was satellite voting in Bellevue.

Lisbon and Lin-Mar school districts have utilized satellite voting, said Alisa Smith of the Jackson County Auditor’s Office, as have counties with large university populations.

“This was our first petition received in Jackson County,” she said.

The sites had to meet requirements for handicap accessibility, parking and any other requirements of a polling location.

Bellevue also had satellite voting, at its “Unpack Your Backpack” elementary school event. Voter turnout was just over 54 percent of eligible voters in Bellevue, and the bond referendum failed by a significant margin, with about 43 percent of voters in favor and more than 56 percent opposed.

In Easton Valley, turnout was more than 64 percent of eligible voters.

“We don’t look at results,” said Smith. “We look at turnout. We had good voter turnout, so it was a good day for both school districts.”