Ogden's East Bench voters doomed $106.5 million school bond proposal

Wednesday , December 06, 2017 - 12:00 AM15 comments

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Voters living on Ogden’s East Bench held sway in last month’s defeat of the Ogden School District’s controversial $106.5 million bond proposal.

They voted in heavier numbers than those living elsewhere in the Ogden School District and their vote was more decidedly anti-bond, as shown by precinct-by-precinct vote tallies.

SEE A MAP OF VOTER TURNOUT AND RESULTS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE STORY

The relative affluence of those living in the area on the east side of Ogden, east of Harrison Boulevard, factored in the outcome, suspects Weber State University political scientist Leah Murray. So did the ability of those living in the area to mobilize opposition, via funds and political savvy.

That doesn’t mean everyone was in lockstep with the strong East Bench opposition in the precincts near Polk Elementary, where foes formed an opposition group called Ogden Education and coalesced around talk of demolishing the historic school and replacing it with a larger building.

Voters rejected the measure by a narrow 51-49 percent split, with the two sides separated by just 238 votes.

RELATED: Polk, Horace Mann, T.O. Smith parents see good, bad in Ogden school bond plan

RELATED: Ogden school bond's failure muddies things, but most say upgrades still needed

Notably, those in the precincts around the two other elementary schools that also would have been rebuilt with bond money voted for the measure — T.O. Smith Elementary in southern Ogden and Horace Mann Elementary further north.

Some of the precincts with the highest rates of support for the bond were around Horace Mann but voters in those areas didn’t come out in big enough numbers to counter the stronger no vote focused along the East Bench, east of Harrison Boulevard, between the Ogden River and 36th Street.

“History-wise, the East Bench seems to show up and vote, regardless of the issue,” Josh Crowton, father of two Polk students who opposed the bond, said.

Turnout was heaviest and the no vote was strongest in the precincts around Polk, Wasatch and Taylor Canyon elementary schools, all on the East Bench.

All other things equal, Murray said, wealthier and more educated voters tend to turn out in bigger numbers, and the East Bench leads most of the rest of the city on those counts, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. On top of that, she cited the “political sophistication” of the residents — their ability to corral funds and get their message out to would-be backers via signage and social media.

The affluence of the bond’s foes, who also criticized the bond proposal as vague and not fully fleshed out, “is probably the biggest explanation for why it failed,” Murray said.

Concerns about Polk centered on destroying what foes viewed as a historic landmark and the notion of making the school larger, threatening the small, personal feel of the facility.

On the flip side, median household income west of Harrison Boulevard lags that of the East Bench, a characteristic that typically equates with lower voter turnout. The 10 precincts with the lowest turnout all sit west of Harrison and Mountain Road, with almost the entire section of Ogden west of Washington Boulevard leading the way in voter apathy.

‘THEY’RE NOT DONE’

Rusty Sessions, a Horace Mann parent who favored the bond, also focused on the mobilization of the bond critics in explaining its defeat.

Aside from rebuilding the three outdated elementary schools, bond money would have been used to build collaborative classrooms at two junior high schools and revamp the Ben Lomond High School gym.

Ogden Education formed only two weeks or so before Election Day, Nov. 7, when many voters started paying attention to the bond issue. 

“That’s the last thing that people saw. That’s the thing that was fresh in their mind before their vote,” Sessions said.

Still, the rebuild of Horace Mann “needs to be done” both to augment the ability to teach kids there and to make the building safer, Sessions said. And he’s getting the sense from district officials that the bond’s defeat doesn’t end things. 

“They’re not done,” he said. “From what I understand, they’re not just going to drop it and leave it alone.” 

School officials, for now, are tight-lipped about what happens next. Some have talked about possibly funding new schools one at a time, precluding the need for a large bond issue and a public vote.

Ogden school board members haven’t yet talked in great depth about next steps, at least publicly, and follow-up discussion on the bond’s defeat isn’t on the Dec. 14 board meeting agenda, according to district spokesman Jer Bates.

RELATED: Ogden school officials reserved on idea of putting reworked bond plan to voters

Whatever the case, Shawn Console, parent of a T.O. Smith parent and a bond backer, says the district can’t let the issue drop, echoing Sessions. “I don’t think the Ogden School District can do nothing because doing nothing would put them in a worse situation,” he said.

Crowton, similarly, would like to see a reworked bond put to voters. If there is a next time, though, he says district officials need to do even more than they did leading up to last month’s vote to get the word out to voters, to drum up support.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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