After a failed bond election in November, the Hays school board is still working to refocus its facilities plan.
The board met in a special meeting Monday night in an attempt to further the discussion on facilities and a possible third attempt to pass a bond issue.
Superintendent John Thissen told the board voters who did not support the bond said they voted against it because it was too much money — $78.5 million — and was too long — 30 years.
The board discussed bonds from 10 to 15 years with a max increase in taxes on a $150,000 home of about $12 per month.
Board member Greg Schwartz said he thought the plan is the first priority, but recommended the least impact on the taxpayer.
“To me, if you could make it a seven year-bond, I would make it the shortest length of bond as you could,” he said.
A 15-year bond with a $12 increase per month tax increase would raise about $30 million.
Thissen said he and Board President Lance Bickle had both been approached by two members of the Hays City Commission about re-examining the school district using a local sales tax to partially fund a major capital project. The proposal that had been floated was a half cent for seven years with a quarter cent going to USD 489 and a quarter cent going to the city. This would raise an additional $8 million for the school district.
Prior to the last bond election, Thissen had approached the city about a sales tax, but the idea was quickly shot down by city commissioners.
Thissen said he was willing to approach the city commission about the use of a sales tax again. He said he would also work to determine how much money could be raised from a 10-year bond.
The board in the last few months have discussed various possible projects for a third bond attempt. Most of these have included some work on the elementary schools. The district’s oldest buildings are Lincoln Elementary and the former Washington Elementary, where Early Childhood Connections is housed.
Both these buildings are more than 90 years old and have serious maintenance issues.
“Our plumbing issues are even more severe than the public even knows,” Thissen said, referring to the elementary schools. “I don’t think you can responsibly put the high school as a project when you know how bad the facilities are at the elementaries. You’ve got to do something there, and that was what the committee work did when they were prioritizing.”
Hays High is the district’s newest building.
He added he and the district’s maintenance director are trying to patch some of maintenance issues at the district’s older buildings and not put a lot of money into them, because the district eventually might vacate those buildings.
The board members discussed Monday night how many elementary buildings the district needs. Opinions ranged anywhere from four to one.
Thissen said he thought the district did not need four elementary schools. Staff could be used more efficiently in three schools or two because the staff, such as music teachers, art teachers, PE teachers and counselors would not have to travel between schools as they do now. Fewer schools could also be more efficient from a maintenance standpoint.
Board members discussed creating two schools. One school would house kindergarteners through second graders and the other school would house third through fifth graders.
Shanna Dinkel, assistant superintendent, said centers like this could be positive for teacher collaboration. Thissen noted it would mean equity for all students, but it also would mean students would have to make more transitions between schools.
The board discussed several scenarios of how a two-elementary school facility plan might work. One suggestion was to expand Roosevelt, which is the newest elementary, and vacate Lincoln.
Another longer-range plan was to build a new high school, move the middle school students to the existing high school and turn the middle school into a large elementary school.
Mandy Fox, board member, said something needs to be done to address facilities, even it is small. People need to see progress and get back into the rhythm of paying taxes for schools, she said.
“My parents in their adult life have never had to support (schools),” Fox said.
Board member Paul Adams said getting a bond passed may be a matter of getting the right people in the community behind it. He encouraged the board to have employers in the community come in and talk about what they need to prepare students for jobs after high school.
The board has not been able to come to agreement on who should put together a new bond package. Thissen has recommended the board assign the work to a committee with perhaps two board members on it.
Board member Greg Schwartz has repeatedly said he thinks the board is the most informed on issue and needs to make the decisions. He also suggested Monday hiring a professional firm to draw up a long-range facility plan.
Fox disagreed saying she thought the district needed some sort of community buy-in.