By CRISTINA JANNEY
The Hays USD 489 $78.5 million school bond failed Tuesday night by more than 1,000 votes, with 60 percent of voters casting ballots against the proposal.
Superintendent John Thissen said Tuesday night he thought the tax increase and the duration of the bond were factors in the bond’s defeat.
The 30-year bond would have increased taxes on a $150,000 home by $16.43 per month.
Thissen said the facility needs have not gone away, and the district will need to bring another bond forward.
“I would say the results are a point of reference we work from at this point,” he said. “We are about trying to create a plan that the community would support and this definitely indicates this was not, at this point. We need to end up doing more work. There is no question that the buildings still need attention.”
Lincoln Elementary School and Washington school, where the Early Child Connections program is housed, are both more than 90 years old. Lincoln had a major sewer line break Tuesday, which is being worked on today. The school has had significant boiler problems, and the boiler is difficult to repair because it is obsolete.
Thissen said he did not think the “no” vote was a vote against all facility improvements at Hays schools. He said the district needs to keep working on its plan.
“A bond issue for schools is not like a competition between two teams to determine who is the visitor,” Thissen said in a written statement Wednesday. “It is actually more like the components of the same team trying to make decisions for the betterment of the whole team or community. The challenge is much like owners, managers or coaches have on professional teams. We have a range of feelings as great as people wanting for their children what other children have in other communities to people who see money put into to schools as having nothing to do with them. … The challenge is that we as school employees work for all of them.”
Thissen said school officials are public servants. He added it is common for districts to propose multiple bonds before one is accepted by the community.
“Roads, water and electricity are a few parts of a community that are viewed as essential and are regularly utilized by all,” he said. “Public education is compartmentalized much differently by many people. Our task is to work with everyone and develop a plan that can be embraced by the public. Our task also includes making sure the plan is responsible for the needs of our children for years to come. This will be accomplished.”
The district’s next steps will be to conduct surveys and review why those who voted no did so. Thissen said he did not think waiting to move forward with another bond issue would benefit the district.
“When you end up having that kind of number that is not for it, it is important to determine specifics of what were the main details about it that were just not agreeable,” Thissen said. “It may not be a matter of just the total dollars. It may have been other factors involved, and we need to move on from there.”
School Board President Lance Bickle, who was re-elected Tuesday night, said he was disappointed in the vote, but said the board will continue to move forward with maintenance and facilities improvements regardless of the bond defeat. The district still plans to move forward with a major upgrade to the Hays High School HVAC system in the coming year.
Mike Walker also won a seat on the school board Tuesday night. He served as a member of the Community Vision Team that helped develop the bond.
“I am frustrated that it went down,” he said. “I understand that anytime you are asking people to raise their own taxes, it is going to be a long shot. I am not shocked. … It is a little ridiculous to think it is a surprise it went down. I am a bit surprised it went down. I thought we had a better chance of getting it passed”
Chris Dinkel, also a member of the Community Vision team, said he thought the district put together a good plan and he was also disappointed the bond failed.
“The needs of the district aren’t going to go away,” he said. “A bond is never defeated; it is just pushed back. We are going to have to do something, but we are going to have to see what it is in the coming months and years.”
The bond would have built two new elementary schools to replace Lincoln and Wilson schools. Renovations would have been done to Roosevelt Elementary School, the middle school and high school, including the addition of a new auditorium at HHS.
O’Loughlin Elementary School would have been renovated to accommodate the Westside program, Early Childhood Connections and the Learning Center.
Secured entrances, storm shelters and right-sized classrooms were also part of the bond proposal.
It has been more than 25 years since Hays passed its last bond issue.
Thissen did not have the exact amount the district spent on the bond proposal. It paid for multiple informational flyers that were sent to residents. Money was raised separately through the vote yes campaign for other promotional efforts for the bond. The district architectural firm, DLR, also invested in the project, but passage of the bond was a condition of payment.