School task force leans toward 2022 ballot question

How to achieve equity for both Crested Butte and Gunnison?

[ By Kendra Walker ]

A community survey of county voters did not exactly show great support for a proposed school bond issue that was tentatively scheduled for this November’s election so it may be back to the drawing board for the idea.

After reviewing the results of a mail survey sent out earlier this summer, the Gunnison Watershed School District group tasked with weighing the pros and cons of a potential $83.4 million bond request for district building improvements appears to be in favor of holding off another year. Based on the task force’s recommendations, the school board will make a decision at their August 9 meeting whether or not to move forward.

During their fourth and final task force meeting on July 20, the task force reviewed the survey results regarding the potential bond measure with Beyond Your Base consultant Paul Hanley. The survey was mailed out to 7,805 registered voter households within the school district, serving as an invitation for public input. The district received 650 responses, for an 8.3 percent response rate. According to Hanley, 90 percent of the respondents were identified as a likely voter.

Hanley told the task force that based on the results “there’s no way this thing is going to pass in its current form.” When asked about the bond issue, 47 percent of respondents said yes they would vote for it, while 49 percent said no. Hanley said that the initial poll is typically 8-10 percentage points too friendly. “If I was a betting man right now I would say it’s 40 percent in support and 60 against,” he said.

The results were also split between the north valley and south valley. In Crested Butte 62 percent said they would support the bond proposal, and 55 percent in Mt. Crested Butte, but in Gunnison only 40 percent were in favor, with 57 percent responding they were probably or definitely against it.

“The intensity is on the no side rather than the yes side…there’s a difference between the two areas in terms of support level,” Hanley explained.

Hanley noted there were three categories of high priorities that came out of the survey: addressing overcrowding at the Crested Butte Community School, addressing general maintenance needs and addressing overall safety and security. But the question, he said, is “how to do that and still provide equity? It’s tough. How do we meet everybody in the middle and is this the right time to meet everybody in the middle?”

“These results are disappointing, I’m sad,” said district superintendent Leslie Nichols. “Getting everyone up and down valley to understand just how interconnected we all are is a real challenge.”

Gunnison County commissioner Jonathan Houck weighed in. “I think 2022 is the year to do this. I’m just worried that…we don’t have valley wide, district wide unity. You need a big turnout of Gunnison voters to get this thing across the finish line. When people are uncertain they’re more inclined to say, ‘I know it’s important but I just can’t put one more thing on my plate right now.’”

Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt and Nichols noted that the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority and the Met Rec district have indicated that they’re considering a ballot issue in 2022 since the school and fire districts were considering ballots for this year.
“I think this data is incredibly disappointing and as someone who works in that building and lives it every day, it’s disappointing,” said CBCS teacher Talley Nichols. “What’s most important right now is safety and Crested Butte overcrowding. It’s not going to be equitable if we go for what’s most necessary. Waiting another year is another year of a crowded facility. But I want people to have buy-in and I want it to pass. From what I’m hearing it sounds like another year is the better decision.”

The group did an initial survey over Zoom during the meeting, with 80 percent (12 of 15 task force participants) indicating the district should take a pause and do additional planning for the 2022 ballot. The majority also felt there should be some moderate changes to the plan to scale it back.

Hanley explained that folks are looking for a reason to vote no. “It’s got to be something you truly believe voters will support, not where you have to do this incredible campaign to push it over the top. You’ve already got the Crested Butte vote, …you’ve got to have something for Gunnison, it’s got to be real and it’s got to sell. Yes, Crested Butte is the highest priority but it’s just not the reality of the politics of this area.”

Hanley plans to send an online survey to the task force later this week for additional input and information, which will be shared at the August 9 school board meeting when the board will take the task force’s recommendations on whether or not to move forward with a ballot measure for this November. They have until September 2 to adopt a resolution for the 2021 election.

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