May 2019 school election

Superintendent Godfrey Saunders took the blame for the failure of Belgrade’s three school levies this week, but said he is determined to learn more about the voters’ objections so that future levies don’t suffer the same fate.

“I’m of the belief that something fails, you didn’t do a good enough job of convincing them you need it,” Saunders said Wednesday, the day after voters defeated a $700,000 general mill levy for the elementary district, as well technology levies of $600,000 and $300,000 for the elementary and high school districts, respectively.

“I’ve got to get out and learn (what the objections were) so that whoever succeeds me will have that information in place,” added Saunders, who has been serving as interim superintendent for the district, and was selected by the school board two weeks ago to act in the same capacity for another year.

Though Saunders said it isn’t fair to say the community isn’t supportive of education, Belgrade voters have approved only two levies in the past 11 years, according to school records – one in 2008, and the other in 2015. Because of that, Mary Ellen Fitzgerald, vice chair of the Belgrade School Board, said the district has some experience with getting by with available resources, but this time she is especially worried about the effects the failure will have on the elementary district because money is tight.

Saunders agreed that elementary programs are the biggest worry right now, though he said the “belt-tightening” measures that will be taken next year in light of the levy’s failure won’t be as noticeable as those that will have to happen the following year if voters deny funding again next May.

In that case, “There will be cuts, no ifs, and or buts about it,” he said, explaining that building principals, teachers and parents would be charged with making cost-cutting recommendations, and then the school board would have to make the hard decisions.

Neither Saunders nor Fitzgerald would speculate on reasons for Tuesday’s election results.

“I don’t think we can point to any one reason as to why,” Saunders said.

Fitzgerald said she is especially disappointed in the results of the two technology levies, because “we really need new technology and computers for the students.” The elementary technology levy failed by a margin of 59.24 to 40.76 percent; the results for the high school technology levy was similar, at 56.66 to 43.34 percent.

Almost 58 percent, or 2,519 of the 4,372 people who cast ballots, voted against the general fund levy.

“We are disappointed in the outcome, but we still have an obligation to find out why so we can break the cycle,” Saunders said. “Our goal now is to try to figure out what we need to do to pass them in the future – we’re going to learn from our mistakes.”