Archive for Thursday, November 3, 2005

Superintendent remains stoic throughout Election Day

November 3, 2005

A bond issue, historically a hot-button topic in the Basehor-Linwood school district, sometimes stirs up funny things in people. In past campaigns, people have alienated communities, accused the opposition of intimidation and, in the most common form of bond issue tomfoolery, alleged that sinister, covert tactics were behind the theft of their yard signs.

While this year's campaign didn't see nearly as many disputes between pro- and anti-bond voters, it had its share.

But school Superintendent Jill Hackett didn't -- and won't -- get caught up in the hype machine.

Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the most important day of her career with the school district thus far, Hackett was relaxed and willing to let the chips fall where they may.

"Whether it passes or fails, win or lose I'm going to wake up in the morning and still be the superintendent," said Hackett, a third-year superintendent. "I'm still going to have to lead."

Don't misunderstand, Hackett's attitude isn't aloof or distant when it comes to the bond issue. Remember that she founded the District Advisory Council, a group that helped craft the proposal, and a victory Tuesday would add a feather to her cap. It would also mean she succeeded where many of her predecessors failed.

She is not cocksure regarding the vote, either.

Rather, her quiet calm on this day is fueled by this simple philosophy: The bond issue has been a collaboration, "a total team effort," between administrators and the community.

"It's all of us," she said. "It's not one person out there who's doing this by themselves.

They've worked hard and done all they could, Hackett says. Now she's ready to stand back and support her team. In the game of elections, there are no ties, and the superintendent said she's sticking with her group, win or lose.

The following day, after the vote totals are finalized, the superintendent's statement will be put to the test.

Maximum optimism

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, Hackett visits the poll in the Glenwood Ridge precinct to cast her ballot. Later that morning, she arrives at the office and begins preparing for a 9:30 meeting of the school district's administrative team.

At the meeting's outset, Hackett addresses administrators on the bond issue vote, which began hours earlier. Instead of getting sidetracked on strategy or attempting to predict the outcome, the superintendent asks building leaders to thank volunteers in their schools for supporting the school construction question.

"If they are in your building today, take time and thank them," she said. "I can assure you this has been a very active campaign for the last six weeks and a lot of people have worked tirelessly."

Following the brief bond issue discussion, the administrative team moves onto other school-related topics. Hackett's stewardship of the meeting ensures that urgent issues don't crowd out the important ones.

At noon, Hackett accompanies assistant superintendent Bill Hatfield and director of business operations Don Swartz to Kelley's for a lunch meeting with Wynne Coleman, chairperson of the bond campaign. During lunch, the four monitor exit polling at each of the three precincts.

Early on, voter turnout was heavy, but it wanes in the middle of the day. School officials and Coleman expect the polls to be flooded between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

It's possible the vote will be decided then.

As of now, it's anybody's guess how it will break. At the window table inside Kelley's, where the bond issue brain trust is seated, hope still remains high.

Finality

The meeting room inside Community National Bank buzzes with smiles Tuesday night, about an hour after the polls had closed at 7. The first wave of voting results, stemming from advance ballots, is written on a dry-erase board.

The number 141 is marked near a Y. A hyphen separates the number 99 from an N.

Unfortunately for the bond committee, it's to be the only victory on this night.

As results from the voting precincts pour in, emotions range from hope to despair and the atmosphere from a belief in the improbable to the likely prospect of defeat.

About 9:15 p.m., the vote goes final: 1,194 opposed to 1,104 in favor. The losing margin, a mere 90 votes, offers little comfort to bond issue supporters.

"From the beginning I prayed that if this was supposed to happen it would, but if it didn't there's a better plan out there," said Coleman, wiping away tears from her eyes.

"We may have lost, but I'm very proud to have my daughters going to this district."

In a concession speech, Hackett said volunteers and school officials should be proud of their efforts.

"This experience, whether it was a victory or not, was a good experience," the superintendent said. She added, "I'm not going to be angry and I encourage all of you not to be angry."

Hackett offered furthered words of solace when she said those supporting the bond issue "bonded as a family."

"When you leave tonight, know how much I appreciate you and how much the board appreciates you," Hackett said.

Hackett, who noted the district's rocky history with bond issues and remarked that sometimes "a culture ... is a difficult thing to change," had no harsh words for those voting against the measure.

That's not her style. She concluded her speech by asking disappointed bond supporters to adopt her frame of mind when reacting to the failed vote.

"A measure of character is defined by how you handle defeat as well as victory," she said.

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