School officials: Early PAC involvement is key for mill levy success
By Jason Stuart
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
Faced with a growing litany of expensive maintenance needs in its aging schools, the newest of which is over 60 years old, Glendive Public Schools is preparing to ask voters for a new building reserve levy next May, and district officials are keen to get started now on working to drum up public support for what they say will be a crucial vote.
“This one’s super-critical,” said Glendive Unified School Board member Paul Hopfauf at Monday night’s meeting of the GUSB Facilities Committee. “This is about keeping the doors open ...”
With so much on the line in next May’s levy election, district officials want to ensure they get a local Political Action Committee fired up well ahead of time so they can help campaign for the levy. Twice in recent years a local PAC has formed to help the school district with important elections, once in 2013 for the last building reserve levy the district ran (which expires at the end of this school year) and again in 2016 for the failed school bond election.
One thing that Superintendent Stephen Schreibeis quickly noted was how late in the game those last two school support PACs formed, with the 2013 group not starting operations until mid-April and the 2016 group not forming until late January (the school bond election was in late March 2016). He said this time the district needs the PAC up and running much further out in advance.
“I would say those things probably didn’t have enough time,” Schreibeis said of the last two school PACs.
Besides not having enough time to really get an effective message out prior to the election, Hopfauf and others also said they felt like the last PAC — the one for the school bond election — came together almost like an afterthought, and that there seemed to be a disconnect between the PAC members and the district and therefore a lack of a coherent message put before voters prior to the election.
“I think the PAC felt alone. I think the whole process felt like it was supposed to happen but then there was no catalyst to make it happen,” Hopfauf said. “The engagement wasn’t there.”
Hopfauf added that in his mind, it’s important for the district to get the formation of a PAC right this time, given that they are currently planning to go back to the voters with a new school bond issue in about two years.
“Strategically, this is the forerunner to a bond issue, so I think it’s important to get this together and get this right,” he said.
Adding onto that, Hopfauf said the district also needs to have a clearer legal picture as to what extent district employees can engage with the PAC or otherwise campaign in support of the levy election.
“It felt like there was a lack of clarity (during the bond election) as to the amount that staff could get involved, it was kind of nebulous,” Hopfauf said.
Dawson County High School Principal Wade Murphy chimed in with his opinion of how important PACs are to school districts to help secure voter support for levies and bond issues.
“The PAC is a way of life anymore,” Murphy said. “In any community where you want to get something done, that’s how you do business to get these things passed.”
Schreibeis laid out a potential timeline of PAC formation, saying he hoped to have the group officially formed by the end of November and have them in operation by December. He also noted that the GUSB is going to have to recruit someone to lead the PAC, as the person who led the last two is not interested in doing so again, though they have turned over all the previous information to the GUSB and are offering advice on PAC formation and operation.
“The main thing is we have to find somebody who has a little time to devote to this,” Murphy said.
Reach Jason Stuart at email@example.com.