In 2016, our community supported the school district by affirming the school board’s resolution to opt-out in an election. At that time, over 50% of the registered voters in the district participated. Throughout the process, the district communicated that we believe the voice of the community is critical in an opt-out and made two promises to the community. First, that the district would only request enough tax revenue to maintain programming in the district, and second, that if the opt-out needed to be extended, the people in the community would have a chance to vote on whether to continue the opt-out or let it expire.
At the March 2021 school board meeting, the board adopted a resolution that included the provision for an election to take place on May 11, 2021. The legal process for an opt-out does not require the board to hold an election, but it was important to the board and administration that the election be included in the resolution to ensure that the voice of the community would be heard again, giving every voter in the district the chance to participate. We followed the protocol for an opt-out election, including posting notices in the district’s official newspaper, the Garretson Gazette. Two notices of the opt-out resolution were published on two separate occasions, and election / voter registration notices were also published twice as required by law.
Our goal all along has been to be transparent with the public and to answer any and all questions that our constituents had with respect to the district’s finances. We advertised and held a public meeting in our gymnasium that was also broadcast on the Alliance cable channel 230. For those who missed it, we also uploaded the video to YouTube and shared the links on our social media and website. We visited with civic groups and offered to come meet with any group that wanted us to come speak with them privately. All questions, whether asked at the public meeting, civic group meetings, or privately via email or phone call, were answered with honesty, openness and integrity.
On May 11, we were excited to hold the election at the American Legion in Garretson. Three hundred fifty-seven people cast their votes. Throughout the day, the ballot box remained secure, with a padlock holding it shut. The school’s business manager, Jacob Schweitzer, presided over the election, and remained present until the conclusion of the day. Ruth Sarar and Rhonda Kirton helped him at different times throughout the day. At the conclusion of the election, John Brinkman and Mr. Schweitzer counted the ballots in the American Legion hall four times as Ms. Sarar watched the process. At that time, the “yes” votes outnumbered the “no” votes 179 to 178, a margin of only one.
We feel very confident in the integrity of the people who played a role in the election and the community members who helped us with it. In hindsight, we made some procedural missteps in the election that are inconsistent with the requirements of the law. First, we did not have a three-person election board at the election from 7AM to 7PM. Second, we did not have the proper ballot stamp, and third, we did not follow the proper procedure for the use of provisional ballots. Provisional ballots are used in the instance where the information in the voter registry does not match the information on the driver’s license. For instance, provisional ballots are frequently used when a voter has recently moved within the district, so their address may not match what is in the registry. Our intent for the election was to provide a vehicle for the community to speak through their vote. These procedural errors have given reason to create doubt for some in the community and that is the last thing we want, especially with a margin this close. We want people to have confidence in the integrity of the process, and we did not help with that as we performed our first election with our current team.
Considering the totality of the circumstances, the board has exercised its reasoned judgment and chosen not to complete the canvass of the election results. Further, it has asked the administration to direct the school district’s attorney to seek appropriate judicial relief. This effort will enable the school district to address the procedural irregularities of the last election and place the school district in a position to once again submit the question of an opt-out to the voters. Our intent is to come back to the community at a later date with another election, as an opt-out is necessary for the school district to remain financially stable.
We want our community to know that we have the best interest of every student and the best interest of the community in mind as we move forward. We believe that integrity is important: in the schoolhouse, in the election process and most of all, personally, for each of us. While we may make mistakes, we intend to operate as openly as possible with our public, acknowledge the mistake and then figure out the best procedure to move forward. We believe that in light of the situation, this is the best course of action for the district and the community. We thank you for your continued understanding and support as we move forward.
The Garretson School Board and Administration
Shannon Nordstrom, Board President
Kari Flanagan, Board Vice President
Rachel Hanish, Board Member
Tony Martens, Board Member
Ruth Sarar, Board Member
Guy Johnson, Superintendent
Jacob Schweitzer, Business Manager