Cole Engel, Fort Hays State University assistant professor of accounting, wants the Hays USD 489 school district to propose a smaller bond issue that only includes needs.
Engel, 36, joins a field of eight other candidates for four open positions on the board, including incumbents Paul Adams and Luke Oborny and newcomers Lori Hertel, Tammy Wellbrock, Alex Herman, Allen Park, Jessica Moffitt and Craig Pallister.
USD 489 has had two failed bond attempts in the last three years — in 2016 and 2017. The board is discussing moving forward with a third attempt.
Engel said he did not support the bond issues in 2016 and 2017.
“I think the school district has a responsibility to educate the public on what exactly the needs are and differentiate the needs from the wants,” he said, “and I don’t think they have done that because if they had, the bond wouldn’t have failed twice.”
Engel said he thought the district underestimated the economy.
“They didn’t have a good feeling or a good temperature of the citizens at the time or what they were willing to support,” he said. “I think they asked for too much, and I don’t think they convinced the citizens what the true needs were versus the wants. I think we went too big too fast and our local tax base just didn’t support it. I didn’t either.”
He said he would like to see the school district find more efficiencies in its budget. If it has made cuts, the district needs to better communicate that to the community, he added.
“I would kind of like to know how we got here. How did we get to the point where we have let deferred maintenance go so long? It seems like we are in this devastating situation financially, but I wonder if it is really that bad?” he said.
Engel said he was encouraged to run for school board by district faculty and staff. At the time he filed, he said he was concerned about what appeared to be a lack of community interest. Only four people had filed for four open positions on the board leading up to the final day to file.
On the day of the deadline, four other candidates filed besides Engel for the race.
“I think another reason why I decided to run is because part of our mission here at the university — our mission statement says — we develop engaged, global citizen leaders,” he said. “Part of our mission as faculty is to encourage our students to participate in their communities and get involved, and I think as faculty members we need to lead by example.”
Engel graduated from Hays High School.
“Service and sacrifice is important. I certainly didn’t get where I am on my own,” he said. “It is time to pay it forward and make sure USD 489 continues to provide the quality education it provided me and the foundation for my success academically, professionally and personally well into the future.”
Engel said now is a good time for education in Kansas and the board has the opportunity to make serious improvements.
“I think the school board needs to remember what its purpose is, and the purpose of the school board is to govern, to set policy, not to manage,” Engel said. “The superintendent and the principals and administration manage, not the school board.”
Engel said one of his goals is to have the board work together.
“We work together as one cohesive board of education, and we are not just a group individual board members,” he said.
The USD 489 school board went to impasse during negotiations with the Hays NEA last year.
Engel has served on the university’s negotiating team for two years and will be the lead negotiator for the faculty next year.
“I think the administration and the faculty should be on the same team,” he said. “There are some different interests there for which the team needs to bargain, but I think it is important that we don’t think of it as sides. We think of it as what’s the issue we’re trying to solve.”
He said faculty is the most important aspect of a school district.
“We have to have good teachers. We have to have dedicated teachers, and we have to take care of those teachers, and it is important that they’re happy,” he said. “If there are communications issues between the board and the teachers or there are communication issues between the administration and the teachers, that needs to be addressed.”
The board also has had split votes recently on purchases for its one-to-one student computer program.
“I think we have to integrate technology,” Engel said, “but it can be over done. I don’t think we need to be using technology for technology’s sake. I don’t think we need to use the newest, most flashy tool just because it’s new and great and flashy.”
Engel does not have children.
He earned bachelor’s degrees in business administration in computer information systems and accounting and his MBA from FHSU and his doctorate in advanced accounting from Northcentral University.
He is a member of the FHSU Faculty Senate, advises FHSU student groups and is a trustee for the FHSU Foundation.