Tweaked VB school plan headed to fall ballot


VAN BUREN — Van Buren School District voters are likely to see a somewhat smaller construction plan, with a shorter payoff time, on the November ballot.

The school board on Thursday officially scrapped a $29.3 million project, which was rejected by voters in May, and decided to seek a $28.7 million project. It would be financed by a 30-year, 6.96-mill bond issue.

Both proposals would pay for a new gym and 34 classrooms.

“I believe the board made a wise decision,” Superintendent Tim Myers said.

After adding the building proposal to its meeting agenda Thursday, the Van Buren school board voted to send it to the county auditor, who will check the calculations.

The board scheduled another meeting for 7 p.m. July 24 in the district’s community room to consider a resolution to submit the new ballot proposal to the Hancock County Board of Elections.

The reduction in money could result in a 2 percent decrease in the size of the new facilities, but Myers is hoping there will be little shrinkage.

In December, the district bought two adjoining properties for $206,000. That expense had been included in the cost of the May proposal, but won’t be part of the new ballot request.

To purchase the properties immediately, the district used money from its permanent improvement fund, which it won’t reimburse with money from the $28.7 million tax, if it passes.

District residents voted down the $29.3 million tax proposal in May with 853 votes, or 62 percent, against it, according to the Hancock County Board of Elections. The bond issue had 527 voters in favor.

On Thursday, school board members said the length of the previous bond issue, 37 years, may have kept residents from voting for it, leading the board to shorten the length by seven years for the new proposal.

Although the tax request failed in May, the board decided that stronger outreach to residents could swing votes in the district’s direction this fall.

“Our challenge now is to do a better job at informing the public and getting them to support and understand,” Myers said.

A former Van Buren school board president, Robert Maas, told board members Thursday they need to listen more closely to the public and provide the project details the public desires.

Maas also encouraged the board to hold off on putting another issue on the ballot in November.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think anything has changed since May,” Maas said.

On Tuesday, the district had hosted a public meeting where participants complained about not being informed of the need or the details of the bond issue the first time around. Myers is hoping the district can inform those voters and change their minds by November.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the district also released the results of a June survey it conducted in which 146 people participated.

The survey showed people were split on whether they would vote for or against another levy, and why they would or wouldn’t.

About 47 percent of those surveyed said they thought building new facilities was a “high priority” and about 36 percent said the public couldn’t afford the bond issue the district placed on the May ballot.

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