MARQUETTE -Marquette residents Tuesday voted overwhelmingly against the Marquette Area Public Schools millage proposal.
The request, which sought to levy a 1.5-mill tax increase in order to improve district facilities, close Bothwell Middle School and construct a middle school addition to the high school building, was defeated with 1,605 votes for and 3,522 votes against.
"The community has spoken and said they are not in support of this plan," MAPS Superintendent Deb Veiht said this morning. "The district still needs to work out a long-range plan and that's what we will be focusing on now."
Veiht said conversations with potential voters in the days leading up to the election led her to believe the vote would be close. In the end, though, those in the district opposed the proposal by a more than 2-to-1 margin.
"It did surprise me," Veiht said. "I truly thought it would be closer."
The proposal, which would have allowed the district to borrow up to $29.2 million, was placed on the ballot following a months-long process that included numerous public forums and many behind-the-scenes meetings among administrators and district employees.
MAPS Board of Education President Tony Retaskie said he wished the district had been able to receive more public input during the formulation process. He guessed many were opposed to the proposition simply because they were unwilling to approve a tax increase during rough economic times.
"I am somewhat surprised," he said. "There weren't a lot of people at the board discussions about the bond proposal. I feel the people that were against it probably weren't very vocal about it and the reasons why."
Aside from economics, Retaskie said he could think of no reasons why someone would oppose the proposal.
According to the Marquette County Clerk's office, 16.6 percent of the county's 40,773 registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday's election.
Though she is unhappy with the result of the vote, Veiht said there have been no discussions about returning to the voters with another proposal.
"Not immediately. No," she said. "We'll have to have some conversations, but there won't be anything in the near future."
She said MAPS administrators will now need to move forward without realizing the annual savings that were projected under the plan.
"If we cannot save the money through our buildings, we'll have to save it through our people," she said. "If we have less money, we have to have less of something else."
Starting next year, Michigan districts must offer full-day kindergarten. If MAPS doesn't make a shift from half-day to full-day, state funding will be halved for all students in the grade. In order to preserve that funding, though, the district will need six or seven additional classrooms and teachers.
That proposition could mean cuts, shifts and realignments, according to Veiht.
"We really need to look at what the board is willing to do," she said. "This could mean reconfiguration in the district again if we go to full-day kindergarten."
Retaskie, who will only be serving on the MAPS board through the end of the year, said he would advise the board and school district to return to the drawing board.
"I'm disappointed, but we still have to educate children and we just have to move on," he said.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.