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Laying the Groundwork for Victory on the Bond Issue

January 29, 2013
I walked out of the Teton County Schools’ Superintendent’s office realizing I had just taken on a huge task: pass a county-wide bond issue to build a new high school.  It meant I would have to put the book I was trying to write on hold and get to work on a project that would have a critical impact on thousands of young lives.  I made up my mind to give it my best shot using all I had learned from working with the master of earning successful votes on tax levies, Phillip Runkel, superintendent of the Grand Rapids, Michigan Public Schools.  I worked with Mr. Runkel as he made history in Grand Rapids passing three levies for money to operate schools, 1971, 1974, and 1977.

The date for the vote was scheduled for Tuesday, May 28, 1978.  I had to get right at my homework and learn all I could about school tax structure for our county and for the State of Wyoming.  I headed straight for the Teton County Clerk’s office.  She let me know that my odds were not even 50-50 for a successful vote.  She said I could count on at least 1000 “NO” votes no matter what I did.

She also let me know that of the 23 Wyoming counties, Teton County was near the bottom for assessed property evaluation that taxes are figured on.  She said the law would only allow a levy that would produce about 4.1 million dollars for the new high school.  I was shocked.  Some single family homes in our county cost more than that.  This would not be the first shocker.

The existing high school was located near the center of town, was old and run down, with a two story south wing that was unsafe.  Plans were being made to keep the old high school and use it for other grade levels and office space for the district administration.  The next problem came with the site chosen for the new high school in the Gregory area on the west end of town.  The outcry came from old timers claiming it was irrigated pasture with a high water table that would cause huge engineering problems and added expense.  Right away the opposition began with the location chosen.  Added to this the school district would not own the land and only be able to use it under special arrangements with other governmental agencies.

Another problem was soon to arise that would be the most serious of all.  The school board chose an architect fro the state of Wisconsin to design the new high school.  No sooner had the architect unveiled the design and a firestorm of criticism began.  Comments like, “The architect just pulled a design off a shelf and charged a huge fee for his services.”  “It is not a design worthy of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.”  “Why an architect from Wisconsin and not the West?”  Our local architects’ association came out with an official objection to the design.  The controversy was discussed at an official school board meeting.  I was there as I was at every meeting to keep tabs on all the issues.  The school board was badly divided regarding the plan so much so that a brief fist fight occurred between two of the men on the board.

To put it mildly, I was dismayed by all the negative vibrations that were clouding the chances for a successful outcome to the May 28, vote.  I did console my self with the fact that all this was happening early on and well before decision day.  I had time to balance all the negative forces with the many positives I was storing up and ready to present to the citizens who would be casting either a yes or a no vote.  The county clerk predicted a turnout of about 2000 voters.  With her estimate of 1000 NO votes my goal was clear.  I needed the simple majority for passage, 1001.  As each problem arose, I was motivated to work even harder.  The teenage youngsters and their education in a safe environment would be well worth the effort.  Following what I learned from Phillip Runkel in Grand Rapids I began the ground work for an intensive three week campaign in May.  I will share my strategy and how, with the help of some key people, the seemingly impossible might turn out with a victory at the polls.


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