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FULL STORY: It's a 'no' from District 518 voters

Election judges assist a steady stream of voters Tuesday afternoon at Lakeside Church in Worthington as District 518 voters went to the polls. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — After many months of contentious debate, District 518’s hopes of building a new high school and making other facility enhancements were halted Tuesday.

Preliminary numbers indicate that voters rejected the district’s $68.5 million bond proposal — its most recent attempt to alleviate district-wide space concerns — by a count of 2,198 to 1,506 in Tuesday’s special election.

“It’s disappointing results,” said District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard Tuesday night. “Tomorrow is another day, and we’ll have to look at the direction we’re going to move forward starting tomorrow.”

Vocal opposition group Worthington Citizens for Progress Committee posted a press release Tuesday evening to its Facebook page following the public notification of the results. The group expressed satisfaction that the majority of voters could “see through (the district’s) exaggerations and half-truths offered by the school board, Jeff Dehler and other proponents.”

“Again, we thank WCPC’s financial supporters, volunteers and workers of all kinds, who made tonight’s results a reality,” WCPC spokesperson Don Brink said in the prepared release.

Landgaard said 3,704 District 518 residents voted in Tuesday’s special election. That number includes 1,479 absentee votes.

According to Nobles County Chief Deputy Auditor-Treasurer Kris Ray, 1,499 absentee ballots had been transmitted for the school district’s special election. Of the absentee ballots, 1,474 were accepted, five rejected and 20 not returned by Tuesday’s 3 p.m. deadline.

Ray said there are a number of possible reasons for an absentee ballot to be rejected, but the most common problem is that the signature envelope is not completed properly.

Absentee ballots include those mailed to the Nobles County Auditor-Treasurer’s Office and those who physically voted early in the Nobles County Government Center.

Prior to the special election outcome, the school board had indicated that the failure to build a new high school would prompt it to immediately increase class sizes and begin seriously exploring the logistics of a multi-tier/year-round school schedule for a long-term solution. If implemented, three-quarters of the student population would be in school at any given time while another quarter is on break.

The earliest the district has indicated such a schedule would be implemented is fall 2021.

Tuesday’s bond referendum rejection is the second for the district in less than a year and a half, and comes after extensive planning by the board with input from focus groups to revamp the district’s failed $79 million failed bond proposal in November 2016. That proposal — which failed by a vote of 3,644 to 1,957 — included a sports complex, while the 2018 referendum did not.  

Board chair Lori Dudley said one positive differentiation between the 2018 rejected proposal and that of 2016 was that the district was able to disseminate more information prior to Tuesday night’s special election.

“That was a positive I heard from many,” Dudley said Tuesday evening.  

However, Dudley expressed that she was deeply troubled that the proposal became such a divisive issue in the community.

“As we move forward I am convinced that we can all work towards healing the division in our community and ultimately finding a workable solution to the overcrowding in our buildings,” she said, adding that the board will continue to be as transparent as possible.

In a release statement, the District 518 Board of Education collectively expressed disappointment of its inability to unify the community behind the needs of its facility.

“While there is a disagreement on how to manage our facilities, we believe there is common ground in supporting the needs of our children,” the statement — signed by each board member — read. “The Worthington School District will build on that common ground to ensure that we all move forward together.”

WCPC announced it will continue to remain organized to help keep pressure on the school board.

“If the school board doesn’t listen and tries to come back with another extravagant proposal our goal is to actively engage in the next campaign, yet again, and hope to beat them by an even greater margin the next time,” the release read.