Take Note

July 11, 2001 1 min read
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When a record number of voters showed up to decide whether to pass a school bond measure in Whitney Point, N.Y., the district’s voting machine lost count.

The 2,100-student Whitney Point Central district placed the measure before voters in the hope of getting approval to spend $23 million for a new high school.

But officials discovered that the antiquated voting machine keeping score was calibrated to count only to 999. More than 1,540 residents cast ballots last month.

“When it hit 999, it just rolled over and started counting again. We had no idea,” said Superintendent Dale Schumacher. “The machine is very old, but it runs fine. We’ve had it serviced and certified every three or four years with no problems, but no one on staff realized it could only count so far.”

The average voter turnout for school issues is usually 400 to 500, said Mr. Schumacher, so one voting machine had always sufficed. The large voter turnout was something the district had not expected.

The votes were lost despite the efforts of a technician who tried to get the machine to divulge its secret tally.

An unofficial exit poll, however, gave the district a good idea of community opinion—and it was not encouraging. More than 900 people participated in the poll; 667 said they had voted against the measure.

Given that sentiment, the school board has decided not to try for a revote.

Despite the setback, officials still hope to secure money for a new school. The three school buildings now in use may soon be bulging at the seams. Two house the district’s primary, middle, and intermediate schools, while a third serves as the high school. The district considered building additions, but a community facilities committee that advised the board to raise the bond measure wanted a new school.

“We need a lot more classroom space,” Mr. Schumacher said. “Hopefully, we’ll find a solution that the community can embrace.”

—Marianne Hurst

A version of this article appeared in the July 11, 2001 edition of Education Week

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