The newly christened Madison-Plains Campaign Committee assembled for the first time to discuss supporting an emergency levy on the August ballot for $2.05 million, to cover operating costs for the local school district.
The group, consisting of mostly teachers, some of whom have children in the district and two residents met Tuesday evening at the Madison-Plains district meeting room inside of the elementary school building on 55 Linson Road.
Board members Mark Mason, Kelly Cooley, Mike Datz and Bob Butz were in the back of the room, observing the meeting.
“Legally, they can’t really give any input because four of them are here. They technically have a quorum,” said Superintendent Tim Dettwiller. “So they can’t really talk.”
The meeting was organized by Dettwiller to kick start the campaign, which he wants the public to run.
“Maybe you do some other things and that’s OK, it’s not my committee,” he said. “Hopefully when we get things done here organizationally, myself and [Treasurer Todd Mustain] and other experts here will be quiet spectators and give input needed.”
Those assembled then proceeded to vote on officers to run future meetings and then start putting together the foundations for the campaign.
While unable to attend, Andrienne McCracken asked Elizabeth Daniels, an intervention specialist at the school, to nominate her for the treasurer position.
McCracken previously served as treasurer for the Madison-Plains Parent Teacher Organization and told Daniels she was “more than comfortable” working with the numbers involved.
“I know she spoke to me at the last meeting, but she couldn’t be here today,” said Daniels. “She said if we needed a treasurer, she’d be more than happy to do that. She would prefer not to be president but she would be fine with treasurer.”
There were no objections and she was selected for the position.
Todd Fisher, who described himself as parent and taxpayer in the district nominated himself and was selected as president.
“Well, I’m new to this. I’ve not been involved in any of these before,” he said. “So as a taxpayer and a parent, I’ve been to many of the MPAC [public discussion meetings]. My background is in finance and accounting, so I’m very interested in this school being all that it is and that it’s fiscally sound.”
In his opinion, the district was fiscally sound but the combination of declining revenue and increasing costs made the proposed levy necessary.
Fisher then acted as the moderator and led the rest of the meeting.
The first order of business was tackling some public relations concerns.
The group decided to rename itself as the Madison-Plains Campaign Committee from Madison-Plains Levy Committee in order to not attach itself to tax increases, which Daniels argued had negative connotations.
Michelle Vroom, a public relations consultant for the district, said that the move would be a good idea, citing local examples.
“Again, taking out that word levy is a very positive step, I think, in the right direction,” she said. “So that you’re not reminding people in your message that it is a tax. We all know that, but we don’t need to remind them of that. We put that subtle reminder that we’re doing something for the district to move it forward.”
Fisher said he wanted to start focusing on rallying people living within the district, which he said should be better represented at the committee meetings.
“Personally, I would like to see more residents, not just employees of the district,” he said. “For me, that’s disheartening. It shouldn’t just be people whose livelihoods are at stake. This is our community and our children and grandchildren.”
Some ideas included getting a booth at the county fair and beginning to assemble a social media presence.
Dan Roberts, a consultant working for the committee from a firm called SHP said the group should slow down and be more methodical in how it proceeds.
He argued that the campaign will be more successful if they follow a much more strategic campaign method, with small steps like starting up social media accounts and beginning there.
“This is a condensed amount of time, which is good,” he said. “There’s a term we use: careful, calculated momentum. I say that because there are timelines and strategies that we implement; we follow a plan.”
At the next meeting, he will bring a voter analytics specialist to help them in their targeting people who could be more supportive.
“When I was a superintendent [at Miami Trace], we seemed to target everyone,” he said. “We wanted everyone to vote yes and the reality is that not everyone is going to vote. One, they’re not registered and two they’re positive anyhow.”
The emergency property tax levy will collect $2.05 million for each of the five years the levy runs, the equivalent of 5.93 mills or $207 per $100,000 of value the property is worth.
The levy is to avoid an incoming fiscal cliff. According to the current financial forecast, the district will have a negative balance of $1.28 million by 2020.
Regardless, the group noted opposition to any tax increases, mostly from people who no longer have a connection to the district.
He noted results of a survey of residents the district presented in February reflected this as well.
“I think one of the things on why [levies] have failed in the past is that it comes from people who don’t have kids in the community or school anymore,” said Fisher. “[They say] my kids don’t go here, my nieces and nephews don’t go here or my grandkids don’t go here, I just own a chunk of land and why do I care about the kids?”
“I think that some of the naysayers are about this idea ‘it’s going to add $20,000 to my farm, I don’t have kids in the district,’” he added.
Gale Orivec, a music teacher, said she had been in the community a long time and noted that the levies hit farmers the most and that outreach to them could be helpful.
“They’re going to be the toughest to try and get to vote for this,” she said. “I don’t know how to go about getting them excited about it. I think the fair would be a good way to present ourselves to them, maybe set up a booth or something.”
She added that farmers supported a levy in 2005 out of a desire to support local kids, but that later the last campaign was perceived to have become hostile.
“When people are threatened, they get out and they do something. I hate to say that, but it’s true,” she said.
Vroom said that they needed to focus less on the firm no voters, as she thought it would be unlikely they could be swayed.
“You will need to find positive voters and remind them that they need to go vote,” she said.
The consultant also mentioned potentially relocating to a new location or keeping campaign materials as far as possible from school property as having meetings in the school opened it up to other groups using the public building, including an opposition committee.
“We’re allowed to have this meeting, but theoretically if there was an opposition group who wanted a place to meet, the district would have to accommodate that group,” she said. “Normally they don’t ask. Rarely have I had a group ask to use the space they’re opposing, but it can happen.
“That’s why campaign managers will ask to keep it as close to the school as you can, but not on school property,” she added.
In Madison-Plains, no such committee is known to have been organized.
Regardless, Roberts said that the group needed to remain together and focus on accomplishing their goal as a team.
“Every successful levy campaign or bond campaign was successful because they had a cohesive group of support,” he said. “Everywhere it’s failed somewhere, somehow there was division in the ranks. So if you’re not on board, you need to cease, don’t be on board. Everybody has got to be all in.”
The group plans to meet next at the same location on Tuesday, June 6.
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.