CORRECTION: In the print version of this story, a decimal point was put in the wrong place. The tax rate, should the referendum pass, would be .428 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
With the November election just a few weeks away, supporters for the school referendum question held an information session at Griffith Elementary Monday night. The “Say Yes Washington” PAC invited the public to see the plans for the proposed fifth through eighth grade middle school and get the facts.
About 100 people turned out for the session. “I thought it was a good turn-out,” said PAC chairman Jason Omer. “I hope they got informed. I hope they learned the facts of the project. We tried to keep it factual and not opinionated.”
The session opened with a presentation by Omer before the meeting was then converted to an informal gathering at several stations in the gym where people could get questions answered on anything from the scope of the project to how it would impact the tax rate.
The question on the ballot asks the public if they support a $38 million bond issue to pay for the school with a maximum tax rate of slightly more than .428 cents per $100 property valuation. The school has space for 960 students which would open the way for a 20% growth in the school population. It would free up space at the elementaries, give more space to the senior high school, and allow the school system to get rid of the portable classrooms that have begun fixtures at North and Veale Elementary.
After making the rounds at least one voter was still undecided. “I don’t have an opinion right now,” said Jerit Clouse. “I’m trying to learn both sides and do my due diligence. It’s a good meeting, very informative. I’m glad they cut the politics out of if.”
Even those who were leaning in favor of voting yes found some information to further support their decision. “I came to find out a little bit more and a few of the stations I stopped at answered all the questions I had,” said David Sparks. “I’m familiar with the remodeling they have done at the schools over the last 20 years. When Veale got those temporary classrooms in they were only supposed to be for a few years. That’s been the better part of 20 years now. They are in bad shape. Our kids need something better. I don’t currently have kid in the school system, but even I see the benefit of adding some more to the community, to give back.”
Some others who are firmly in the “yes” camp say the project is needed for the good of the kids and the community as a whole. “I think it is an excellent time for the young people in the community to vote and support the school they graduated from and give back,” said Derrick Clarke. “It’s an excellent opportunity for Washington and as a 30-year-old who graduated from Washington and has seen some of these problems and with kids getting ready to come through the system, this is an excellent opportunity to grow our community and keep building for the future.”
“I think it is fantastic,” said Kelly Miller, a social worker for the school system. “I’m excited about it. I think it will be great, not just for the junior high students, but our elementary and high school students. I’ve known something needed to be done for years. I’ve worked in the school system since 2008 so something needed to be done for a long time. It was just coming to the right conclusion. I think this is what’s best for all of the students.”
But not everyone at the meeting was convinced that the project being proposed is the way to go. “I think a 20 year commitment is a long time for anything, no matter how much it is,” said Morris Portee. “I think there are different options, different ways to get this done than just throw it out to the citizens. I don’t say the citizens don’t have to pay for it, but there are different ways for paying for things. Planning ahead, bringing other business and industry in so that they can contribute, so the residents don’t have to pay as much. Washington hasn’t brought any industry in in the last 30 years. They always want to compare us to Vincennes or Jasper. They have industry. They can build big schools. They can do that stuff. I’m not saying we don’t need the school. I’m saying maybe we need to go a different way.”
The negative response was something else organizers were ready for. After months of debate they realize there are some people who probably cannot be swayed. “We would have liked to see 500 people show up,” said Omer. “All we’re trying to do is make a well-informed voter, well-informed on the facts. We’re not trying to change anybody’s vote. We just want them to be well informed.”
The referendum question will be open to all voters in the Washington Community School District. That includes all Washington voting precincts and Veale and Harrison townships. People can either cast a ballot at the polls on Nov. 5 or vote at the clerk’s office from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Daviess County Courthouse through noon Nov. 4.
The Times Herald is working on a story with the people opposed to the project for Wednesday.