When a school bond loses by two votes, the words “what if?” can’t help but jump into the minds of those who hoped for the issue to pass.
What if the campaign began earlier? What if a few more people turned out to vote?
Or in the case of the Jefferson C-123 School District, the $500,000 question: What if the district didn’t have to pay prevailing wage?
Jefferson Superintendent Rob Dowis found himself pondering that possibility a few days after his district failed to gain approval for a bond that would have constructed a $1.75 million gymnasium. The issue required the approval of 57.14 percent of voters, but only received 56.86 percent — two votes short of passage.
State Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, has proposed a bill that would exempt rural school districts from the state’s prevailing wage law, which he claims could lower construction costs significantly.
Mr. Dowis supports the proposal, as he did previous efforts to pass similar legislation from his local representative Mike Thomson.
“The architect who drew up our original plans does a lot of work in Kansas, where schools are exempt from the prevailing wage,” Mr. Dowis said. “He estimated it would save around 25 percent, or close to $500,000 for our project. I definitely think if anyone was opposed because of the cost, it would have been an easier sell.”
Opponents of Mr. Guernsey’s bill said in committee that the prevailing wage was established to ensure quality, value, craftsmanship and safety in projects paid for with public money.
Mr. Guernsey has argued — and Mr. Dowis agrees — that prevailing wage laws force rural districts to hire expensive labor from outside their community instead of paying local craftsmen a lower wage.
Other proposed bills would eliminate prevailing wage requirements for rural counties, which could lower costs for road and bridge repair and other infrastructure upgrades.
“Up here, we have people who need jobs and we have older buildings that need repair. But the school districts and governments can’t afford it,” Mr. Dowis said. “(The bill) is a win-win.”
Mr. Dowis said the school board had not yet discussed whether it would pursue the gym bond again. The issue has failed five times, though it gained majority approval the past three times it appeared on the ballot.