KEEPING TABS: Jennifer Shelton tallies the school referendum votes by precinct on a large chalk board at the Democratic Party headquarters as the results came in on Tuesday.  (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
KEEPING TABS: Jennifer Shelton tallies the school referendum votes by precinct on a large chalk board at the Democratic Party headquarters as the results came in on Tuesday. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
When asked if they would support a $40 million referendum to upgrade two Madison Consolidated Schools buildings, voters answered with a resounding "no" Tuesday.

Of the 5,885 ballots cast for the referendum, 4,514 - 76.7 percent - rejected the proposal.

The referendum drove up total voter turnout for the primary election with 32.3 percent of registered voters casting a ballot. That's the highest primary turnout since 2008, which was a presidential election year.

MCS Superintendent Ginger Studebaker-Bolinger said she was disappointed with the outcome.

"But the voters have spoken, and we will move forward," she said.

Bolinger said that there is currently no contingency plan for Madison Consolidated High School and E.O. Muncie Elementary School, the two buildings that would have been impacted most by the referendum.

During a meeting at the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce in February, Bolinger said the two buildings are in dire shape.

At the time she warned that "if we don't get the referendum, we're going to have some crumbling buildings."

David Ferguson, a leader of the referendum opposition, said the vote is the beginning of a conversation about education, not an end.

"This is just a first step to move forward. I'm happy to be able to move forward. I'm happy to not be burdened with taxes for 19 years," he said.

Ferguson said he hoped the community would use this vote as an opportunity to evaluate the future of education in Madison.

In December, the Madison School Board voted unanimously to place the $40 million referendum on the primary ballot after more than two months of public meetings conducted by a building project task force.

If approved, the referendum would have closed E.O. Muncie and replaced it with a remodeled and expanded Anderson Elementary School.

Work at the high school would have included construction of a gymnasium, converting the old gym into a performing arts center, renovating the school's "A" wing, adding classroom wings that would include a technology center, a centralized media center, new entryways, a renovated main office area and a main entrance facing Clifty Drive.

According to state law, MCS must wait one year before it can submit a new referendum proposal.

The issue of how the community should handle its school buildings has been a topic of debate - sometimes heated - since the district closed the Anderson and Dupont elementary schools in 2012.

Resident Marcia Smith didn't join the referendum debate until the weeks leading up to the election.

Smith works at a pharmacy and spent much of election night at the Jefferson County Democratic Party headquarters. She said she voted "no" and tried to convince everyone she knew to do the same.

"This just wasn't right for our community," Smith said, adding that $40 million is too much to ask the community to pay back.

"This community just can't afford something like that. A lot of people come here to retire. We love it here. We don't want to be taxed out."

History suggests that Madison would have a tough time getting the referendum passed. Madison joins a long list of school corporations that have failed in their first attempt at a referendum.

Since 2008, two-thirds of first-time referenda have failed. Only six of those school districts have attempted a referendum again, four of which have passed.

Statewide, smaller school districts seem to have a tougher time passing referenda. There have been 24 schools with 3,000 students or fewer attempt a referendum since 2008. Only five of them have passed. None of the passing referenda were for more than $35 million.

Madison is the 20th school district to attempt a referendum of $40 million or more since 2008. Madison would have been the smallest school district to approve a $40 million bond.