COOS BAY — The final votes are counted and the results are in: the Coos Bay School BEST Bond has failed.
Since election night on May 16, the school district held its breath after the ballot count left the outcome too close to call. During the past four weeks, outstanding ballots have been sent in to sway the final count one way or another. A total of 161 ballots were counted, turning the measure down by a slight 32 votes.
“I think we've proven that we can be successful on this issue, either on this same measure request or something very similar to it,” said school board member James Martin. “I'm encouraged by the results, disappointed obviously, but I think we set the stage for success.”
Now that the final tally is in, the Building Excellent Schools Together (BEST) Bond Committee that was in place in the spring will meet tonight to review campaign efforts, talk about what can be done differently, and what the steps need to be going forward. The district's facilities committee will hold a similar meeting on Wednesday night as well.
“Ultimately it is up to the school board of course,” Martin said.
Coos County Clerk Debbie Heller said there will be no need for a recount to verify the results, even though it is close. A margin of one half of one percent would fill the requirement for an automatic recount. Here the results were 49.74 percent yes and 50.22 percent no, with a total of 7,226 ballots.
If someone would request a recount, it would have to be filed through the state with an initial $15 deposit. However, that wouldn't cover the entire cost of a recount.
"The last recount we did was in 2014 over the home rule charter," Heller said. "It cost $650, but now wages have gone up since that was done. Also, back then we could quickly pull up precincts to count those ballots, but now I would have to go through every box of ballots and go through them individually with human eyes to make sure the measure was on each of them. I would be time consuming and costly. Not only that, but I'm not sure I've ever done a recount that has ever changed the ending results."
The Coos County Republican Party had been vocal about concerns on how the $66.5 million bond would be spent. On Monday, Chairman Rod Schilling expressed concern over how the school district ran their campaign.
"We tried to put information out on what we consider the downside of it," Schilling said. "It was a downside for the retirees because the amount of money involved was huge, and the fact that there wasn't any specifics on how they were going to spend the money. It's a lot of money and I think if they had put out there exactly what their intentions were of using that money, in smaller amounts ... . This was a huge bond over a long period of time with little or no accountability and I think the voters would like to know what their money is going towards."
However, those involved with the campaign remain heartened by closeness of the vote.
“The closeness shows there are a lot of people who care and want to see these improvements happen,” said Ellen Webster in a previous interview, chairwoman for the BEST Bond Committee. “We definitely got the momentum going, if not now then for sure in November."
According to school officials, the $66.5 million bond request would have been used to relocate the elementary students from Blossom Gulch to a new building that would have been built in Eastside. Currently, Blossom Gulch sits in the tsunami inundation zone, which prevents the school from obtaining grants to help improve and/or fix the sinking foundation, waste water pipes that are slipping away from city connections, among other problems. The bond would have also upgraded every school house in the district, aside from the Marshfield High School campus, to be ADA compliant, have reliable heating and cooling, among other improvements.
The razor thin margin was an outcome that voter comments at the ballot boxes last month predicted.
“We need the funding for the schools,” said voter Peter Cooley. “If we have an earthquake, those buildings are just going to fall down and kill a bunch of kids. People don't realize but we're due for an earthquake.”
But Voter Shirly Wheeker voted no on the bond, attributing her decision information she attributed to staff members in the district.
“I happen to know people who are involved in the school system,” she said. “There are lot of other ways to make those buildings better, so let's do those things first. I'm against it.”
In contrast, the largest school bond request in Oregon history was passed last month by voters in Portland for $790 million. Likewise, the school bond request in Bend for $268.3 million also passed. Those bonds are to do what the Coos Bay bond had hoped to do — make buildings safer.
“We've been able to keep our buildings going to where kids and staff are able to be safe, but it will take hard work this summer to keep them going in the fall, but that's what we're going to have to do,” Trendell said in a previous interview. “We will look into alternatives to relieve pressure at Blossom Gulch. That's a big piece of what we're going to need to do, whether it's shifting kids around to different buildings in the district, but doing all of that doesn't solve the issue. Ultimately we're going to go back to work and get this bond back on the ballot.”
The district has tried to pass this bond in the past, but its other attempt took place in 2008 right as the area was hit with the recession. Encouraged by the close votes this time around, a third attempt likely won't wait another eight years.
“We're confident we'll be successful the next time around,” Martin said. “The school board will decide when and what kind of program we will go forward with from here, but most of the people who worked on this campaign, myself included, will recommend that we grab this momentum and soldier straight ahead with a similar proposal for next November.”