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Ellis bond results mirrored survey; now back to square one





ELLIS -- It's back to square one for the Ellis USD 388 Board of Education after voters defeated a $10 million bond proposal earlier this month.

The board voted in December to have the special election.

If the bond had passed, the district planned to use the money to pay off the HVAC improvements made four years ago, renovate Washington Grade School, and add classrooms and upgrade sports facilities at Ellis High School.

Early this year, the district hired the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University to conduct a survey of registered voters measuring support for each individual improvement project.

Superintendent Bob Young said the survey cost $4,000.

"At that point, we had already decided to do a bond election before we hired them," said Mark Polifka, USD 388 board president.

Surveys were mailed March 5, and data collection terminated April 9. Survey results were presented at a special board meeting April 24.

A total of 501, or 28 percent, of the 1,773 registered voters responded, according to the survey results' methodology page.

It's not uncommon for a school board to survey the public after deciding to put forth a bond issue, said Gary Brinker, Docking Institute director.

It gives district officials a chance to present scenarios to patrons, then "put together a bond they think would pass," he said.

The Ellis survey showed two-thirds of the respondents would vote against the proposed bond.

According to the survey analysis, the football field, track and secondary gym would have to be removed for the bond to have a chance of passing.

The Docking Institute conducted a bond survey for the Ellsworth school district, where upgrading sports facilities also was found to be unpopular, Brinker said.

That bond issue failed as well, as the survey predicted.

Brinker said bond surveys differ from strategic planning surveys because they target specific issues.

"We got good information from the survey," but it didn't change the district's needs, Young said.

Polifka said the survey showed the board and administration the areas to target with more information.

"We tried to get as much information out as we could," he said.

With no money for new facilities in the district, Young is making a list of things at the "attendance centers we need to look at sooner rather than later."

Some decisions also have to be made about the secondary gym, football field and wrestling room.

"I don't want to put a lot of money into those old facilities," Young said.

Finding a new location for the wrestling room is at the top of the list.

"We're scared for kids to be in that space," he said.

The board likely will have a planning session in the fall to discuss options.

The district can't have another bond election until November 2014, Young said, and he isn't sure if even a smaller bond addressing attendance centers would pass.

Even if it would pass, improvements wouldn't be completed until the 2016-17 school year.

"I don't know what we could have done differently," Young said. "The HVAC is only thing guaranteed to pass."