The referendum on a $250 million bond issue sought to enact a series of public-school construction projects was postponed Thursday night by the Rapid City Area Schools Board of Education.
The Board voted to rescind a resolution passed June 10 that authorized a bond election to be held Sept. 17. A new date for the ballot measure will be voted on later.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm a little disappointed," Board President Ron Riherd said before the vote.
"We don't know what interest rates are going to do, we don't know what construction rates are going to do," he continued. But more time is needed, he said, before a vote can be taken. It will take a 60 percent majority for the measure to pass.
Board members rescinded the June 10 resolution by a vote of 5-1-0, with Kate Thomas abstaining and Amy Policky absent for the meeting. Several board members who voted in favor of the repeal appeared dismayed at the prospect of delaying the referendum, but conceded that more outreach is necessary to educate voters on what the bond issue entails and what construction projects will be included in the first phase of the master plan for school facilities.
"I said before that I thought the message got garbled. This is our chance to clean up that message to what exactly we're asking for," Board member Matt Stephens said.
Tuesday's vote was met with enthusiasm by Board member Christine Stephenson, who said it represented an opportunity to gather public input. Stephenson, a supporter of the bond issue, previously raised questions about the choice of schools slated under the facilities plan and what she said was a lack of coordination with Rapid City city government, concerns that led to the delay of the initial vote on the authorization of the bond election.
"All I've heard from day one is 'I don't get it, I don't understand it, I don't see the need,' or 'we need more time,' or '$250 million is too much.' And those are legitimate concerns from all walks of life in this community," she said.
The chance to increase voter turnout could also be on the table should the school board choose to reschedule the referendum at the same time as the June 2, 2020, primary election, Board member Curt Pochardt said.
For the bond issue to be adopted, 60 percent of school district residents will have to vote in favor of it, per South Dakota law. Bond funding would be paid back by levying a property tax that school financial officials have estimated will cost an additional $1 per every $1,000 of a home's assessed value.
The RCAS first announced plans to close several aging and overcrowded schools and replace them with more modern facilities in April. Those plans were compiled by a school-civilian task force over the course of a year and a half.
After a series of open houses on the facilities plan, the task force recommended the closure of Canyon Lake, Robbinsdale, Horace Mann and Wilson elementary schools and the construction of three new elementary centers in different parts of town. South and West middle schools were also recommended to be rebuilt where they stand, with renovation projects planned for other schools in the district.
When they voted to accept the task force's recommendation on June 10, school board members decided not to close Wilson — a 90-year-old building — and added the redevelopment of Rapid City High School, the RCAS alternative school, as another possible construction project.
Board members also voted in favor of changing the location of one of the proposed elementary schools to west or southwest Rapid City. It was originally proposed to open southwest of Highway 16 and Catron Boulevard.
In their recommendation, task force members also suggested closing the Lincoln and Jefferson centers and moving their programs into Rapid City High. Both buildings are now slated to stay open through the next three to six years that comprise the first phase of the facilities plan.
— Contact Matt Guerry at email@example.com