Wellington Schools levy fails by 16.5 percent margin

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JASON HAWK
EDITOR

“Depressed” was the word Wellington Schools Superintendent Ed Weber used Tuesday night to describe his reaction to an overwhelming defeat at the polls.

The school system was hunting $8.7 million in new cash to repair the 60-year-old Westwood Elementary School, where old boilers, a cracked parking lot and an aging roof are concerns.

Voters didn’t buy in to plans to fix up Westwood and, to a much lesser extent, Wellington High School. They rejected a combination levy and bond issue by a 16.5 percent margin.

The unofficial Election Night tally was 771 votes (41.74 percent) in favor of the tax increase and 1,076 (58.26 percent) against.

Early in the day Tuesday, Weber said he was optimistic about Issue 18’s chances. He said Board of Education members received good feedback from voters heading to the polls.

“We feel good about our campaign. We feel good about what we’re doing in the schools,” he said.

But when the polls closed at 7:30 p.m., the Board of Elections followed quickly posted absentee ballot counts. At that point, the levy and bond issue was failing by a nearly two-to-one margin.

Later, precinct breakdowns showed the gap much closer inside the village of Wellington. Weber said the district’s message wasn’t well-received by rural residents.

After running a positive campaign, and facing no organized opposition, the loss caught him off-guard, he said.

“I think it’s always difficult asking for new money. These weren’t renewal levies,” said Board of Education Vice President Brett Murner, who was disappointed but not surprised by the outcome.

It’s not unusual for school issues to get just 30 percent support their first time out, he said.

If the Wellington Schools go back on the ballot in the spring — and that’s not certain yet — it means tax collections won’t start until 2021.

That means a delay for repairs, said Weber. The longer they’re pushed back, the more costs will escalate, he said.

In the meantime, there’s a risk that a boiler at Westwood will fail this winter, he said. There are three at the elementary school, and one is already offline — a breakdown would put the school out of commission.

Three and a half years ago, the boiler system was estimated to have five more years of life left, Weber said.

“You hate to take it right to the wire, but that’s where we are,” he said. “We don’t want to repeat what was done before, where we let things go too long.”

Faced with an emergency, the district could try to get a loan, the superintendent said. But he still believes the only options for Wellington are to either decommission Westwood, repair it or replace it.