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Only 4 precincts supported school levy

The defeat at the polls Tuesday wasn’t a complete surprise for the architects of the Marietta City Schools levy proposal, but the dimensions of the public rejection of the idea took the school board president aback.

Doug Mallett said Wednesday he wasn’t prepared to speak for the entire board, but he found the vote surprising.

Of the 22 precincts that voted on the measure, it received more than 50 percent support in only four: three in Marietta’s core area, downtown and around Marietta College, and the Muskingum East A precinct, which is primarily Devola voters.

Voters in Marietta 2A showed the strongest support for the proposal, which would have consolidated the district’s schools in a single campus adjacent to Washington State Community College at a local cost of $55 million. Precinct 2A, which includes downtown from the waterfront to Washington Street and the Marietta College area, voted 60 percent in support of the levy, and 2B, which encompasses the area to the northeast near where the new schools would have been built, showed 52 percent in favor. Precinct 4C, which includes a small area north of downtown between Washington and Warren streets, voted just under 54 percent in favor.

The vote in Devola, which is part of Muskingum East A precinct, was almost exactly split, with 232 in favor and 230 against.

The lowest level of support for the levy came from the portion of Fearing Township northeast of the city, where only 28 percent voted in support.

“I haven’t analyzed the results – and I plan to do that to get a better understanding – but I’m disappointed that the community didn’t see the benefits of this proposal,” Mallett said. “I’ve lived here for 45 years and I felt like the community pride would come through. I see these other cities with new, modern schools, and it’s hard for me to believe that they have more community pride than Marietta. I was astonished that it was that bad, I never suspected we would lose by 1,000 votes, that’s a pretty resounding defeat.”

The unofficial total was 2,687 in favor, and 3,658 against.

The board has been working on the proposal for two years, and made it clear that regardless of whether the levy was approved, action would need to be taken. The district’s six buildings are old – the most recent, Marietta High School, opened when Lyndon Johnson was president – and built to serve more than 4,000 students. The current enrollment is about 2,500, which means the district is overbuilt by about 60 percent.

“The need hasn’t gone away, we don’t have a modern system to help the community grow and prosper,” Mallett said. “I think we did an effective job of communicating the vision, but maybe we didn’t communicate the alternatives, which are not pleasant. The challenge is, people don’t know all the issues. The old neighborhood school concept is a figment of the past, people just aren’t in tune to that.”

Board vice president Russ Garrison was out taking down signs Wednesday. Like Mallett, he said the board hasn’t met to discuss what comes next.

“We haven’t had any of those conversations yet,” he said. “(District treasurer) Frank (Antill) has figured out the timing for the March ballot, and we would need to have something to the auditor by Nov. 21 to establish the millage, and then get the proposal to the board of elections by Dec. 18. It’s going to be extremely difficult to make changes and hit that sort of deadline.”

Garrison said his personal view is that a plan needs to be developed for reaching the district’s educational goals using the buildings it has.

“If we were defeated by a percent or two, it might be possible to go back in March with some chance of success, but I think we need to focus on a plan for the existing buildings. What do we do with grade banding, how do we teach in a reduced footprint. We can’t live in these buildings for 20 years without significant upgrades, we need to figure out what to change.”

The next regular meeting of the board is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 25.

Michael Kelly can be contacted at mkelly@mariettatimes.com.

Marietta City Schools levy proposal

• Support greater than 50 percent: Precincts 2A, 2B, 4C, Muskingum East A.

• Number of precincts less than 50 percent: 18.

Source: Washington County board of elections final, unofficial results.

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