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Public debate

There once was a time, not very long ago, that most any idea proposed by Hays USD 489 administrators received automatic approval from the Board of Education. How elected officials convinced themselves this was a prudent approach to financial stewardship was beyond us.

With the 2010 surprise change in superintendents, behavioral norms of board members have been altered as well. For the better, we would add.

Two recent decisions confirm our belief the BOE takes its governance role more seriously with Superintendent Will Roth than it ever did with Fred Kaufman.

The first instance was with the jaw-dropping $110 million proposal to consolidate all the elementary schools to two, move the middle school to the current high school and construct a brand-new facility for ninth through 12th grades. The concept appeared on a fast track toward next April's local elections, when voters could decide whether to support a bond issue.

School board members began hearing dissent from the community about assorted issues with the plan. Nothing new there, USD 489 patrons have a proud tradition of registering their complaints. This time, however, the board paid attention. And, rather than attempting to ramrod the project through, opted to cool their heels for a little while. Last week, a committee of community members was selected to thoroughly examine the issue and offer its own recommendation to the board.

Given the magnitude of the project, we find this approach not only acceptable but laudable.

The second case involved a million-dollar-plus project as well, although nowhere close to the $110 million or more. This one involved installing artificial turf on the Hays High athletic fields for $1.65 million.

As with the bond issue, the turf project had been identified as a need for the district and had the administration's recommendation for approval. In fact, the turf replacement already was on the capital outlay long-term plan beginning in 2013.

Yet the BOE rejected the plan at last week's meeting. All but one board member grasped the logic of waiting to see how the much-larger facilities question plays out before committing funds to any component that might be replaced.

Remember the uproar generated by the school board using $136,000 in tax dollars to complete the controversial weightroom at the high school last year? We would anticipate at least a few of the Build F.A.S.T. committee members wondering whether it all was worth it if that ends up being the middle school's weightroom.

In no manner is either of these decisions a repudiation of the administration's agenda or qualifications. Quite the contrary. With more than $50 million of taxpayer funds used annually to operate the district, having the elected board accountable to patrons is precisely how the system was designed.

Public deliberation of big-ticket items should be required. We're pleased to see the USD 489 Board of Education agrees.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net