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      Bessemer schools hoping to pass $4.9 million bond

      Last May was the first time the Bessemer School District's bond referendum did not pass. It was a $6.9 million bond and was defeated heavily. So this year, they've removed two million dollars and are asking voters for a $4.9 million bond.

      â??Over the life of the referendum, which would be 19 years and 10 months, the average levy then would be 5.15 versus a 6.4,â?? said superintendent, Dave Radovich.

      The district says both Washington Elementary and the A.D. Johnston junior and high schools need major infrastructure, security, and technology upgrades.

      â??Right now technology is very weak in Bessemer. We have to move into the 21st century. Right now at the elementary school we are not in compliance with state standards for online testing,â?? Radovich said.

      Those in the district say both boiler systems need major improvements, including greener efficiency units. They say Johnson Control would be managing the boiler renovations, and that they would guarantee the school district a savings of $41,000 in energy costs over 20 years. Another improvement would be looking at getting more buses in the district.

      â??The bus portion will be paid off in six years. By law we cannot sell bonds for longer than what the equipment's useful life is,â?? Radovich said.

      Some community members and small business owners say the bond is very much needed.

      â??I have two kids in the elementary school,â?? said business owner, Bill Steiger. â??We have a phenomenal school district. This is going to save taxpayers money over the long term with all the investments in the efficiencies of the building. Thereâ??s going to be substantial returns on that and that's how we have to think when we're spending taxpayer money.â??

      That said, as with many school bond referendums, there is most likely going to be a bit of opposition. Some in the district say consolidation with Wakefield-Marenisco schools would be a more viable option.

      â??What we're doing now is we have a petition going around getting signatures to get on the August ballot,â?? said school board member, Bill McDonald. â??That bond is for 20 years. Thereâ??s no way this school district is going to last another 20 years down the road because we are losing students.â??

      â??I don't think the school board is opposed to consolidation, but we would like to have a plan,â?? Radovich said. â??Right now we have a group of two or three people that are really trying hard to get consolidation an issue on our August ballot. We have invited that group to come and speak with the board and they have not done that to this point because we would like to see their plan.â??

      Voters will have a chance to decide on the bond on the May 6 election.