Marshall voters nix referendum

MARSHALL – The special election held by the Marshall Public Schools Tuesday failed by 22 votes.

Independent School District No. 413 had proposed an operating referendum to increase its general education revenue by $150 per pupil, to run concurrently with the $675 referendum that was approved in November 2011. The purpose for the newest referendum was primarily for improvements in technology and safety/security at Marshall.

Election judges Terry Hennen and Ramona Buysse verified that a total of 1,652 votes were cast Tuesday, including two ballots that were recorded as spoiled. The final count revealed 836 “no” votes and 814 “yes” votes, declaring the referendum a “no-go.”

“I’m obviously disappointed with the outcome, but at the same time, I think when you look at what the results are, it’s discouraging but not deterring,” Marshall Schools Superintendent Klint Willert said. “We feel we have an obligation to do some of those things because we know where things are trending with education and technology, and we know, certainly, that we have some safety things that we have to address. We’d said that this is a priority, both the technology and the safety, so we’ll continue to have that conversation and figure out how we can make that happen within our district.”

Willert said he was surprised that the vote failed but offered a few possible reasons why.

“My initial reaction might be because of the implication on the tax,” he said. “I know people don’t like the word ‘tax’ and even though it was ultimately a tax decrease, the ballot still had to read, was required to read, that it was a tax increase. Maybe that was part of the issue.”

Another reason could have been the community’s belief that technology is more of a “want” than a “need,” Willert suggested.

“How the world is moving to this digital content and digital platform and understanding what that means and how that translates into the classroom is something that is really hard to wrap your head around because it is doing things very differently than we’ve done, for literally, hundreds of years in education,” Willert said. “I think that’s where we have to just continue to tell our story and show what we are doing and how we’re going to do it.”

It also means that the district will have to re-examine its budget.

“I know I shared early on that this is a priority,” Willert said. “And if it’s a priority, it’s like other things that you fund in your own personal budget, you fund your priorities, and you make your priorities happen.”

Marshall students absolutely need to have technology integrated into their education system, Willert said.

“I look at what the role technology has in our world, even in my roots, where I grew up in agriculture on the farm and not all that long ago, we farmed very differently than we do today,” he said. “We utilize GPS technology, we use precision farming, all of those practices embed technology.

“And I look at the way our business world interacts with each other. It’s all infused with technology. So the world that our kids are going into is really infused in applying and utilizing technology to help them do the work that the world of work requires. So I really see it as our obligation to ensure that they’re prepared with those skills to apply those tools.”

The process of integrating technology within the district is possible, Willert said, but it appears that it may mean more bumps along the road.

“It’s not going be as smooth of a transition as we’d hoped,” he said. “But we still need to move forward.”

Recent visits to technology-rich school districts, along with encouraging pilot projects at Marshall, has provided key road maps for the future.

“We’ve had some phenomenal pilot projects in the district over the last couple of years, and I think those kind of set a benchmark of what we can do and how we’re going to move forward,” Willert said. “Our kids need this.”

Marshall administrators visited Watertown, S.D. this past Friday to look at its program.

“They’ve been in a one-to-one initiative over there for 10 years,” Willert said. “It isn’t that this can’t happen, it’s just how can it happen.”

In light of so many tragedies that have occurred in school environments, the district intends to continue its quest to improve safety and security measures as well.

“We have to be aware that we certainly aren’t immune from anything like that and we have to take steps accordingly,” Willert said.

Marshall went to the voters for assistance in the name of technology two years ago and was turned down by a difference of 104 votes. A total of 2,355 votes were cast in November 2011, with 1,121 votes in favor of approving the referendum and 1,223 against (there were 9 defective ballots).

Voting numbers were not nearly as high on Tuesday, but the weather may have played a role in the decline.

“We did good this morning,” election judge Tony Doom said. “We had 150 people by 8 a.m.”

While he was appreciative of everyone who voted Tuesday, whether they voted in favor or not, Willert said he was somewhat disappointed in the overall turnout.

“I was hoping for a stronger turnout because education is such a priority in our world and it is, as we’ve heard several of our leaders say over the last couple of years, the civil rights issue of the 21st century,” he said. “A quality education that really prepares kids for career and college readiness is what we need to focus on, so we’re going to. We’re going to keep pushing that in our own school system. We know that we just have our work to do, in terms of prioritizing our budget accordingly now.”