May 21--BUTLER COUNTY -- The razor-thin victory for Middletown City Schools'$55 million bond issue looks like it will stand after 48 provisional ballots were counted Tuesday by Butler County Board of Elections officials.
But the final voting results from the May 6 primary election remain unofficial, and an automatic recount is still a possibility.
The margin of victory for the bond issue -- which will build a new middle school, raze the existing one and renovate the high school -- increased to 24 votes after Tuesday's count. Elections officials were set to count 53 provisional ballots from the city of Middletown, but five of them could not be counted because of defects such as being torn or having extra dots or other markings.
Those five ballots will be remade and counted today, according to Butler County elections officials. Meanwhile, eight ballots -- six provisional and two absentee -- in Warren County will be counted on Thursday. There are not enough uncounted votes left to change the bond issue from a win to a loss, according to elections officials, but an automatic recount could still come into play.
If at least six of the 13 uncounted votes in both counties are in favor of the tax issue, then there will be no automatic recount. Five or fewer votes in favor of the bond issue would mean Butler County will conduct an automatic recount on May 30 (a tentative date) and Warren County will recount its portion on May 28. Since Butler County switched to electronic voting in 2005, a recount has not changed the outcome of an election.
Middletown Superintendent Sam Ison said his mind has been "racing" since the narrow unofficial election night victory, playing out the "worst and best scenarios" possible. But through it all, he said he has remained positive because of the support from the community.
"People came up and said, 'Sam, it will pass. It will pass,'" he said.
Once the vote finally becomes official, Ison said the district will be ready to "move forward."
Certification of the election in Butler County will happen on Friday. It was initially to take place on Wednesday, but three partisan central committee seats appear they will be decided "by lot" (such as a coin flip, cutting of a deck of cards, drawing straws or pulling a name out of a hat). The elections board chairman, Frank Cloud, is the only one to pick how the races are decided and execute the method. Cloud was not able to attend Wednesday's meeting.
Middletown High School Principal Carmela Cotter was thrilled with the apparent passage of the bond issue, and she said she understands the responsibility of managing the taxpayers' money. She was thankful for the "sacrifices" being made by Middletown residents and assured the administration would "do the best job possible" managing the funds.
She has heard the complaints from those who opposed the bond issue, the chief one being that new buildings don't guarantee great achievement in the classroom. Cotter said the district already has "great teachers," but to be competitive, it also needs buildings that "provide opportunities" for the students with better technology and facilities.
"You can't separate the two," she said.
Ashley Baumgarten, who opposed the bond issue, disagreed. She said education starts with teachers and parents, and even in an aging school building, Middletown students can "succeed just as well as the next kid."
Baumgarten, who has no children in the district, said the money-strapped district building a new school and renovating another is like "buying a Ferrari when you can't afford insurance or tires."
The Rev. Lamar Ferrell, who helped chair the bond issue and levy campaign, said he was "overjoyed" after he learned the bond issue is on the verge of passing.
"I'm powerfully encouraged that this marathon that we have been running for a number of years is realized and completed," he said.
He said the closeness of the victory, once again, shows that every vote counts. If the apparent victory stands, he said, the entire community -- those for and those against the tax issue -- need to put their differences aside for the betterment of its youth.
"Instead of standing on the opposite side of the fence, we all need to rally and find common ground to move this city in the right direction," he said.
For his entire 25-year educational career, Michael Valenti has been in the same building as a teacher, assistant principal and now Middletown Middle School principal. Earlier on Wednesday, a few hours before he learned about the day's vote count, Valenti said he talked to a custodian about a water problem in a bathroom. Once a new middle school is built, he won't have to deal with maintenance issues and can concentrate of education, he said.
He's excited that once the middle school is built near the high school, those two schools, and Miami University Middletown, located across Breiel Boulevard, can work even closer together.
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