A special meeting of the Hays USD 489 school board Monday night helped bring more focus to what the district’s next bond proposal might look like and even when an election might happen next year.
Five of the seven board members, along with Superintendent John Thissen and other members of the administration, identified three projects, a target amount of spending and a rough time frame for an election in the 90-minute session.
But the most important aspect of the meeting was the decision to move forward, Thissen said Wednesday.
“The bigger issue right now was a matter of saying they want to move ahead on this,” Thissen said.
In their discussion, the five board members — Greg Schwartz and Luke Oborny were absent — narrowed down three essential projects to consider:
• Replacing the high school heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
• Renovation and addition to Roosevelt Elementary School.
• Expanding the middle school cafeteria.
In addition, the board targeted an amount at about $30 million, with a time frame to the bond that would keep a tax increase on a $150,000 home under $15 a month, something the public indicated it wanted in a 2016 survey.
The board has also requested finance group Piper Jaffray to create timelines of the steps to be taken for a potential bond election in January, April or September 2020.
A bond question could be placed on November’s ballot, but the board members felt that would be too early.
“Probably November of ’19 is too quick, but I really don’t want to wait until November 2020,” said board member Mike Walker.
Board members also discussed long-term planning and thought a 10-year plan would be more feasible at this time rather than looking forward 20 or even 40 years.
Instead, they discussed the three projects as creating a baseline that other short-term projects and bond proposals could build upon.
Whatever they decide, board members agreed a clear plan must be presented to the public.
“We’ve talked about long-term planning like beating a dead horse. We need to have all of that lined out,” said board member Lance Bickle. “That’s one of the biggest things I heard from people was just there was no plan.”
There are two drawbacks to depending on a bond cycle, however. One is that future bond proposals will be subject to the state’s cap on school bond issues.
In 2017, Kansas passed a law that prohibits the state board of education from approving school bond issues totaling more than the amount of debt retired in the previous year.
Because it has been more than 25 years since USD 489’s last bond, the district is not subject to that cap, but if a bond is passed, any subsequent bond proposals will be.
The other concern is the public’s acceptance of a bond cycle, especially if faced with an unstable economy in the future.
“Those steps you’re talking about scares the bejesus out of a lot of people at this point. And that second step could keep people from voting for the first step,” Thissen said.
Board member Paul Adams noted low oil prices and people’s uncertainty about their jobs were factors in the 2016 bond proposal defeat.
“Things have gotten better, but not great, and now we’re faced with agriculture terrorists and all that. We never know what the future will bring,” he said.