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SPOTLIGHT
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LOB defeated

Published on -7/1/2014, 8:53 AM

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There generally is no limit to the generosity the Hays community shows those in need. Particularly when it comes to children.

So when a request to increase Hays USD 489's local option budget by 1 percent was defeated by a 2:1 margin last week, it suggested something other than decreasing class sizes was being considered by voters.

We can think of at least two pertinent factors influencing the lopsided result.

The first is the great uncertainty emanating from the state capital. Topeka's self-inflicted financial straits are becoming more obvious with each month's revenue report, and they only will get worse. Absent an order from the court (and assuming lawmakers would abide by it), it is only a matter of time before property and/or sales taxes will need to increase in order to maintain current funding levels for schools. Many 489 patrons were voting to protect a pocketbook that likely will be pried open by state lawmakers as early as January.

Board of education members and supporters of the LOB increase could not do a thing to affect such commonsense reasoning. The fear is real; only November's state election can alter the current glide path to recession so many Kansans thus far have so willingly embraced.

Even legitimate concerns about the state economy, however, can't explain a 66-34 margin for USD 489. Not in a community that generally favors doing the right thing when it comes to children.

We would suggest communication is the second rationale behind the 3,425 "no" votes. Or, more accurately, lack thereof.

The number of changes taking place in the Hays district in the past year has been astonishing. From the first meeting Josh Waddell, Danielle Robben and Lance Bickle attended as new board members last July, the only constant has been change.

Former Hays City Manager Randy Gustafson was hired as a consultant to review policies and procedures in the district. He concluded "USD 489 has been mismanaged over a number of years, perhaps decades. Maybe a better term would be non-managed."

Likely suspecting as much, the current board has shown an extreme interest in management.

The number of board meetings doubled. Contracts for service and with personnel started getting thorough examinations. Policies and procedures were scrutinized.

Superintendent Will Roth was asked to retire early. Then Deputy Superintendent Richard Cain abruptly retired. Tracy Kaiser was hired to fill the newly created business manager position. Shanna Dinkel was named to the reinstated position of director of curriculum. Marty Straub was named principal at Hays High after Michael Hester retired, only to take a job in a Topeka school.

Dean Katt was hired as the interim superintendent. In the middle of a national search for a permanent replacement, the board hired Katt. Brian Drennon was named technology director after Todd Bryant resigned. Rusty Lindsay was brought on as director of buildings and grounds, replacing Francis Hammerschmidt who was supervisor of grounds and maintenance.

Executive sessions have become the rule rather than the exception. A common justification for the closed meetings is discussion of non-elected personnel, even though the BOE only deals with the hiring and firing of one non-elected personnel -- the superintendent. There were previous overinflated enrollment numbers to contend with, which resulted in budget shortfalls. There were budgets themselves to deconstruct and begin placing line items in proper positions. More recently, there were layoffs in preparation for the upcoming year.

Almost to an item, little explanation has been offered publicly. We are not suggesting any move in the past year is suspect, but the public generally has no clue why the board did any of them. The communication simply hasn't been there.

For a board that collectively indicated it wanted more transparency, an "unsatisfactory, progress needed" grade is warranted.

Communication empowers people, including the patrons of USD 489. It also instills trust.

That lack of trust is what doomed the local option budget election. While board members said the first 1 percent would be used to decrease classroom sizes, there was no articulated plan for the additional 2 percent. Not many people were willing to turn over an extra $400,000 on faith alone.

It now has been one full year with the new-approach board. We assume there are no more personnel changes amongst the administrative and director ranks, as almost every one has been turned over.

It is time for Hays Board of Education members to bridge the gap with their patrons. If open communication can become the norm, the failed LOB vote will be but a minor speed bump.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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