In a survey of 800 Millard residents last April, 56 percent said they would likely support a $180 million school bond issue for the Millard Public Schools.
Even with that strong majority of favorable responses, school district officials eventually agreed to ask for about $40 million less.
In a November mail-in referendum, that $140.8 million Millard school bond issue was shot down with 57 percent voting against it.
In about eight months, defeat was somehow snatched from what seemed to be the jaws of victory.
"People just felt it was too much to be spending in a bad economy," said Doug Ewald, who led the pro-bond efforts last fall. "There were particular sticking points for people once they saw the details. 'Artificial turf' kind of became a rallying cry for people" who felt the bond issue should be defeated.
I was less turned off by the two proposed artificial turf fields for Millard West and Millard North than by the $24 million for high-tech security upgrades that looked to be helpless against a truly determined intruder.
Now it's back to the drawing board for district officials. Ewald and Paul Meyer, who led the opposition in the November vote, both said they expect a new bond issue to be on the ballot in the May primary election.
So, any takers on a couple of bets?
How much do you think district officials will ask for?
Now, a second number: Assuming Millard voters would support a bond issue at all, how much money would they be willing to fork over to the schools?
I'm betting they'll ask for about $90 million. I believe the bond issue will pass only if it is $75 million or less.
I figured the best way to make an informed prediction was to tap into the very tax-conscious head of Meyer, a Millard resident and the member of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom who led the successful opposition to the $140 million bond issue.
The first thing you should know is that Meyer doesn't necessarily oppose a Millard school bond issue right now. He, and many of those who rallied around him last year, just opposed that $140 million in November 2011.
"It was just too many 'wants' instead of 'needs' at a time when many people are just having trouble keeping up with their own needs," he said. "There are things that the Millard schools really do need right now. Let's get those."
Of course, perceptions of what top schools need to continue to be top schools vary greatly. I would describe Meyer as decidedly old-school on the issue.
Meyer sees "maybe $30 million" in needs, he said.
"Three or four of the older schools need updating. Maybe it is time to add a few classrooms in certain places," he said. "I also understand that we need our children to be tech-savvy in this modern world.
"I don't imagine I would put up any fight at all if we see a $30 million bond issue come out for May."
Do I hear $60 million? I asked.
"If it was $50 million, they'd have to come out and make a very convincing argument," he said. "But that's me personally. I could see there not being a very strong fight even up to $60 million if voters were given a good explanation."
Then I picked Ewald's brain. Ewald, Nebraska's state tax commissioner who led the pro-bond issue effort last year, said he will be "far too busy this spring" to help with any new bond issue.
Ewald said he "definitely understood some of the misgivings" he heard as he worked to promote passage of the $140 million bond issue.
Ewald said he would now be more inclined to support less money for high-tech districtwide security measures, focusing instead, he said, on the three high schools, "where it would seem to be effective to look hard at a more secure, single entry point system."
Ewald said he thinks the next bond issue will be significantly smaller. No matter the size, he thinks the success of any new bond issue is difficult to predict.
"If the economy looks better over the next couple months, even that becomes a factor," he said. "If you get bad economic numbers before May, who knows how people will feel."
Interesting to note, I think: When surveying those 800 Millard residents about potential bond issues, 76 percent said they would likely look favorably on a $90 million request, a substantial jump from the 56 percent who generally supported even a $180 million. That survey was done last spring for the school district by a local research firm.
Just tossing around numbers here: But if 20 percent more people supported a $90 million bond issue compared with that $140 million one, that $90 million bond issue would seem likely to pass.
Or, I just tossed a bunch of apples in with some oranges. I'd play it safe with a smaller number.
In the end, even though he's "very concerned about the debt we seem willing to leave the next generations," even Meyer said he isn't as concerned about a specific number as he is about more fundamental issues of the democratic process.
"If something like 80 percent of eligible voters turned out for this instead of the 36 percent who voted in November, I wouldn't be upset even if they approved that same $140 million.
"If we have informed voters turning out in substantial numbers, then whatever the outcome, the people have spoken," he said.
Not to be un-American here: But does anyone want to make a third bet on the odds of an 80 percent voter turnout for a May election?
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