Last time, when the East Valley School District tried to pass a bond, the voters rejected it. Last time, they tried everything.
Ruth Gifford, who spearheaded the last bond campaign, estimates they spent $15,000 on the last campaign, putting up billboards, and yard signs, mailing fliers, waiving on street corners and going door-to-door to convince voters to support their local school district. But it didn’t work.
“With the mail-in ballot, it’s just easier to generate no,” Gifford says. “You’re going, well, I really don’t know a lot about it, I won’t make waves, I’ll just vote no.”
This time, they’re doing none of that. There’s no campaign. The district has sent out a fact sheet, and Gifford says there’s been a small amount of word-of-mouth organization at the individual school level, but compared to past bond and levy campaigns, the “Yes” side has been quiet.
“We’re trying to keep it quiet. Not attract a big No campaign,” Gifford says.
By keeping their efforts personal and behind-the-scenes, she hopes the opposition won’t attract a lot of publicity. She’s called 18 or 19 of her friends, but expects victory to be an uphill battle.
“Last time, we put out a lot of information, and people took that and twisted the facts and turned that into suppositions and in some cases downright misinformation,” East Valley Superintendent John Glenewinkel says.
In 2011, Glenewinkel (pictured above) began moving the district toward a K-8 and high school system, eliminating middle school. He pointed to research showing students struggling and falling behind with the transitions in middle school. But critics predicted it would just bring middle school problems – drugs, profanity, fights – down to the grade schools.
When over 60 percent voted against the bond in 2011, critics saw it as a mandate against the district’s direction. But Glenewinkel continued to move forward. Today, he cites stats showing on-time graduation rates and attendance soaring, and suspensions plummeting. (So far, it appears to have had no dramatic effect either way on test scores.)
Art Tupper, a former teacher who’s sparred repeatedly with Glenewinkel, isn’t convinced.
“I don’t know if it’s truthful,” Tupper says about Glenewinkel’s statistics. “I’m more than willing to sit down with a group of people and talk about what will raise reading and math scores.”
But he doesn’t think the bond proposal, which would renovate several schools, replace field turf, build a performing art center, and add new gymnasiums, has much to do with helping students learn to read and write.
“[The bond supporters are trying] to keep the vote down to just the people who are for it — that’s what I believe they want,” Tupper says.
The group perennially against bonds, Citizens for Responsible Taxation on the other hand, has been running a campaign, and has sent out mailers. Citizens for Accountable Education, an East Valley group that has opposed the shift away from middle school, has been putting up signs.
Glenewinkel says he’s tried to contact people active on the Citizens for Accountable Education Facebook page, but hasn’t always been able to find out who they are. (By law, district resources cannot be used to encourage voting for or against a bond.)
“How do you deal with and have the debate with people who are hiding behind pseudonyms and are unwilling to come forward?” Glenewinkel says.
The district narrowly passed their maintenance and operation levy this fall, but bonds require 60 percent. As a result, the district hasn’t passed one since 1996. The deadline to get in ballots for the latest attempt is February 12th.
UPDATE: John Glenewinkel wanted to share some additional thoughts and clarifications, which we've posted in full.
A fact sheet, published by the district, follows: