Note: This is the first in a series of articles profiling candidates for Hays USD 489 school board. Candidates were emailed the same questions; their answers have been edited only for grammar, punctuation and style.
Hays native Lance Bickle was elected to the school board in 2013 and serves as board president.
Growing up, he attended Wilson Elementary and Felten Middle schools and is a 1995 graduate of Hays High School. He also attended Fort Hays State University.
Bickle is a benefits consultant with Aflac. Prior to that, he owned SICOIR computers, a residential and business technology support company, for 15 years with Dallas Haselhorst until it was sold to Eagle Communications last summer.
He and his wife, Amanda, have been married for 10 years and have two daughters who attend Wilson Elementary, Alexis, 8, and Alayna, 6.
Why do you want to serve on Hays USD 489 school board?
I chose to run for the school board four years ago to get involved and make a difference in the community. I had followed the school board and was unhappy with how things were being run and decisions that were being made. I decided that it was not right to question things if I was not willing to step forward and try to be a part of the solution.
Since I joined the school board, we have made significant progress in balancing the budget and implementing long-range budget planning. There is still much work to be done in these areas, and many others, but we are heading in the right direction.
Throughout the bond issue this year, the matter of trust in the school board has been brought up. Where do you feel the level of trust with the board might be weakest? As a member of the board, what could you do to ensure trust in the board with the public and/or district staff?
I feel the school board and administration have done a good job addressing these issues and has made it a point of emphasis to ensure we are open and honest with the staff and community to address any trust issues that may exist. Many of these issues arose as a result of significant budget cuts in education in Topeka that were passed on to our school district. The result of these cuts forced the school board to take a hard look at its budget and find areas where its expenditures were out of line with districts similar in size and geography to this school district. Many of these cuts affected staff, students and their families. The school board tried to be as open as it could as it worked through these issues.
We have emphasized communication, working to get all information to the public, staff and any others affected by the actions of the school board, while avoiding making promises that the school board cannot deliver. We have made huge strides as a district, but we need to continue the emphasis we have placed on communication and building strong working relationships with other entities in the community, community members and staff as we move forward.
Do you believe the scope of the proposed bond is adequate, or does it encompass too much? What would you change about it?
The school board, after the failed bond attempt, wanted to reach out to the community and receive their input on what if any building improvements they felt were needed in our school district. We also wanted to know if the community felt we should continue to explore a bond. We then put together the Vision Team, and with their hard work of meeting and speaking with the community and reviewing the results of the community surveys, we approved moving forward with the current bond proposal. I do feel that the bond is adequate, and I am also aware of the opinions of those who oppose this bond.
The school district has not had a significant bond project since Hays High School was built nearly 35 years ago. This is not the norm in most counties in our state. Since there has been no action to address our buildings in such a long period of time, this has resulted in such a large bond project. I understand that nobody wants to see their taxes increase, but we must invest in our school district to continue to be one of the top districts in Kansas. Ultimately, the voters of USD 489 will decide whether they support the current bond.
If the bond issue fails, what steps should be next for USD 489 to address issues of infrastructure and class size?
We will continue to address the needs of our facilities and determine what is the best course for the school district to address the long-range needs for the facilities. We will continue working to improve and repair the district facilities regardless of this bond's success. If it does not pass, we will have difficult decisions to make going forward, but we will make the most of what we have.
If the bond passes, where do you think the new elementary school should be located? Why?
I am unsure of that location at this time. We have not explored those options at this time, and do not plan to begin that process until after the bond passes. If the bond passes, the school board will seek community input into the location of the new elementary school. The school district has land by Hays High School, but this may not be the best location for a grade school. The most important aspect of this is that we will need to work openly with the community in determining the best location for the new grade school.
Other than issues addressed by the bond, what would be your priorities if elected to the school board?
A school board member’s most important job is being a good steward of the taxpayer’s money. The school district for the first time in nearly 20 years, has a balanced budget. I will continue to make that my priority if I am re-elected. There may be additional funding from the state of Kansas as a result of the recent Kansas Supreme Court decision, but it is still important that the school board make wise long-range decisions with the money it is given. Many of the decisions that the school board must make are not always popular, but are necessary for the good of our district. I will continue taking into consideration the long-range implication of all decisions that come before the school board. I will continue emphasizing the need of long-range planning in all areas of the district. We must continue to ensure we have long-range planning in place to address the needs of the school district today and in the future.