For the first time since the November election, the Hays USD 489 school board discussed the failed school bond proposal, with board member Josh Waddell placing blame for the bond’s failure on the architectural firm the board hired for the process.
In further discussion, board members said that for any future proposals, the board should first find a dollar amount the community will support and create a proposal from that. They also spoke of creating long-term plans for the district and the need for better working relationships with the city.
The $78.5 million bond proposal was voted down by 61 percent of those voting last month. A $94 million proposal was voted down in June 2016.
Board member Josh Waddell jumped in quickly after USD 489 Superintendent John Thissen opened the conversation with possible directions the district can go. Waddell pointed blame at DLR Group, the architectural firm hired by the board a year ago. If and when a third attempt is made at passing a bond, he said, the company needs to do more to listen to the community.
“I don’t think it’s rocket science here on why it did not pass. DLR pushed the threshold per $150,000 home valuation higher than what any data supported this community would go and pushed it out to a timeframe that was unpalatable to anyone in the community,” he said.
The 30-year bond would have increased taxes on a $150,000 home in Hays by $16.43 per month.
When Thissen said it was the community Vision Team that made that decision, Waddell did not agree.
“There’s a difference between leading a team down a path versus a team coming to that conclusion on their own,” he said.
“I don't fault the team, the Vision Team, at all. Their job was to assist with needs and different voices from the community and what the community would like to see,” Waddell said.
“I think it was DLR's responsibility to create something that would be viable. When we look at the results of the election, a $90-plus million bond was actually closer in the voting polls than this one, so there has to be a huge disconnect and I would say a lot of that burden would fall on the guidance and the leadership from DLR,” he said.
School board President Lance Bickle said the board needs to take ownership of the bond’s failure as well.
“After the first bond failed, we took it from the community that the board was spearheading everything, and so I think we almost took more of a hands-off approach the second go-round. I think we need to find that happy medium. We need to be more involved,” he said.
Looking to a future bond proposal, a general consensus was to find a tax increase residents are comfortable with and form a proposal from that. Board members suggested a one-building proposal might be more acceptable to the community.
“It’s possible that in a community such as Hays, it may take that kind of project, a single-building project done well, so exciting that when it’s over people go, ‘Wow.’ Maybe that is what it’s going to have to take for them to support something,” Thissen said.
Board member Paul Adams said that would not be his preferred method, but the district also must do something at this point.
“That’s going to leave us with haves and have-nots,” he said of a building-by-building approach. “But that’s the reality of what we can and can’t do. We want to serve the community as a whole, but at this point, if we don’t begin to move forward with something with some of the buildings, then we’re failing serving anybody.”
“The return on our investment by spreading costs out over multiple bond issues to replace things is a horrible return, worse than doing a 30-year bond, but that may be all that's palatable. I'm not really keen on it, but on the other hand, I don’t think we can wait,” Adams said.
“That’s where we’ve got to be if you’re going to get people to buy into this,” board member Greg Schwartz said, adding he did not vote for the bond. “I know that’s bad to say, but I thought 30 years was too long and locking in 2 mills out of the capital outlay was a horrible thing that was going to handcuff the district for years to come.”
He suggested the board create a long-term plan for the district that would look as far as 30 years into the future. The plans could be revised on a yearly basis, he said.
Bickle said no matter what approach the board decides, voters needed something more tangible than was presented.
“I don't feel personally we did a great job of laying that out. I think we need more detail. I think we need more information out there for people to be able to truly see, feel, touch and know exactly how this is all going to work,” he said.
Waddell and Schwartz also said work is needed to repair relations with the Hays City Commission.
The district’s Vision Team had proposed early in the process a half-cent, 25-year countywide sales tax to help fund the project, but the Hays City Commission did not support the idea.
Waddell said it was his perception there is still animosity between the city commission and the school district.
“I don’t know how that needs to be fixed, but it does. We need to be walking together into the future rather than taking separate paths,” he said.
“We’ve had a history of not following through,” Schwartz said. “I don’t think it’s a one-way street. None of the major players play well together here.”
He noted the school board has not approached the city when making decisions that affect city traffic flow, such as improvements on Victory Road off Hall Street, which parents of O’Loughlin Elementary School use for drop-off and pick up of their children.
“We need to repair that. If we go and say, ‘We’re going to work with you,’ they may not, but at least we’ve given it our best effort,” he said.