Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor
For the second time in three months the voters in the Highland School District have answered the call to vote on an 8.9 mill increase for the Highland School District. Again, they said no. 2,297 voters turned out in the largest school Special Election in Sharp County history.
The millage failed with 1602 voters rejecting the millage and 693 voting in favor of it. This is nearly a 70 percent margin of “Against” votes. The percentage of those opposing the millage was greater than the November election’s results which were 2290 against and 1357 for.
The millage, was to be utilized to build a new high school with an attached 900 seat performing art center for the Highland School District. Had the millage passed, the district would have been able to utilize $6.3 million in state partnership funding Commission for Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation and host various band, choir and performing arts events.
Between the November and the Feb. 14 Special Election, school administrators answered public questions online in an attempt to encourage a vote for the millage. They also presented estimates from the county assessor on what proponents proposed tax increase would be if the millage were to pass.
This Special Election drew also drew staunch opposition and resulted in the formation the public group “Citizens for Highland School Accountability.” The group formed after learning in December of the District’s plan to host a taxpayer funded Special Election in 60 days, after being defeated in November by a 2/3 margin. The group advocates held public meetings, purchased yard signs, banners and a billboard with several community members and prior educators presenting arguments against the millage. Many were related to what they felt was the lack of long term planning and estimates, public accountability, as well as the ballot language and upcoming reappraisals in Sharp County that would further raise already strapped taxpayers bills.
The Special Election process has been very divisive in the community. The district also underwent strong criticism in many public forums regarding the use of tax payer funded school messaging applications to promote a votes for the millage. Several parents contacted this news agency about the district hosting a meeting for seniors in attempt to get them to vote for the millage and utilizing students holding signs as a way to sway voters.
The loss forces administrators and the board of education to return to the table for the third time to decide on which path they will take in regard to the ultimate goal of obtaining a new high school. Many who were asked why they were voting for the measure all had the same answers, that the new school was for the children. Members of the opposition said they felt it was fiscally irresponsible for the district to bridle two generations of students with a $30 million debt based only on an architectural rendering.
Sitting in the audience at the Sharp County Courthouse awaiting election results on Feb. 14 representing the Highland School District was Superintendent Jeremy Lewis, former Superintendent Don Sharp, Assistant Superintendent John Sinclair and Administrators Kara McEntire and Kelly Goodson, as well as School Board member Danny Gibson.
The SRC will provide a full story in next week’s issue on this second defeat, including precinct breakdowns as well as comments from Highland’s Administration on plans moving forward.