This is the sixth in a series of question-and-answer articles on the candidates for Hays USD 489 school board. The same questions were e-mailed to each candidate, and they were given several days to provide their answers. Answers appear here in full, unedited. Four seats are open on the school board, each consisting of a four-year term. Other candidates are Paul Adams, Cole Engel, Alex Herman, Lori Hertel, Jessica Ann Berg Moffitt, Craig Pallister, Allen Park and Tammy Wellbrock.
Luke Oborny has served on the Hays USD 489 school board for four years. He has lived in Hays for 22 years and is a customer sales supervisor with Nex-Tech, where he provides service to customers and employees for solutions to customers' technology needs. He is a big brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ellis County and a member of Knights of Columbus. He graduated from Fort Hays State University with a bachelor’s degree in communication emphasizing in public relations. He is married to Kristy Oborny, a librarian/educator for USD 489 at O’Loughlin Elementary School. They have three children attending public school — a third-grader, seventh-grader and a senior at Hays High School.
1. Why are you running for school board? What experience or qualities do you have that will benefit the board and district?
I am seeking a re-election because I just don’t feel my job is done. I am pleased with several accomplishments over the past four years including our healthier budget and the growth of our contingency fund, but I have a couple more goals I would like to see growth on. Goals I don’t feel we have accomplished yet are:
1. Build more trust with our employees and the general public.
2. Begin to address our facility needs through a bond.
As far as my experience, I have served on the USD 489 Board of Education for the past four years and have a good understanding of district needs and operations. Through my career experience I’ve learned skills of budgeting, planning, sense of team and accomplishing goals. I also understand the value of every individual to reach those goals and I feel my service record up to this point in time proves I am a man of integrity. My voting decisions are based on what I feel is the best decision for our children and our district.
2. What do you see as the three biggest challenges USD 489 will have in the next five to 10 years?
1. Rebuilding trust to improve relations with the employees and the public. These go side by side. Poor relations with our team leads to poor relations with the public.
2. Facility improvements. We have aging facilities and although little projects can be done through capital outlay new buildings would require a bond. A bond is the state-designed process for large-scale projects like a new school building.
3. Ever-changing funding from the state. State funding over the past 10-15 years has seen decreases then sudden jumps but ultimately lacks consistency. Trying to plan a future budget, financial plan, building replacement etc., is extremely difficult when you have no idea what your funding might be. Since school funding is one of the largest parts of the state budget it will always be looked at first when the state faces financial hardship.
3. USD 489 and the Hays NEA have reached impasse on contract negotiations for two years in a row. What steps need to be taken — by both sides — to help smooth the talks and improve relations between the board and the teachers’ bargaining unit?
Trust! We need to work together to build it back. Both sides have their reason for distrust and hurt feelings. We just need to work together for the best needs of the district. I truly feel both sides feel they are doing this today, but we just need to align the “how” we go about it. I would like to see us move toward interest-based bargaining in the future (hopefully as soon as next year).
4. What priorities should the district put on projects for facilities improvements and how should they be funded?
Facility improvements should be a high priority. My biggest concern is the majority of our buildings fall close to the same age, and we haven’t invested in a new building since 1980. I support a bond. What it should entail I leave up to the voters. A bond is the only way the district can address aging facilities and it is the process the state has developed specifically for projects like new buildings and major facility upgrades. Some support a large bond and fixing all issues for the next 20-30 years while others favor small bonds closer to $25 million (average cost of a new elementary building) and hopefully continuing these as they become paid off. Both concepts have advantages and disadvantages. The decision should truly lie in the voters as to what direction they would like to proceed. My goal would be to encourage communication, feedback and education with voters so we can begin to make progress. Capital outlay is designed for and can be used for smaller projects like new roofs, new additions etc., but if we want to build an entirely new building, we need a bond.
5. The school board and administration have recently put an emphasis on building a contingency fund, adding $300,000 last year for a total at the end of fiscal 2019 for $1.2 million. Is this a good strategy, or should that money have gone for other use?
Knowing the dire financial position of the district was one of the reasons I sought election. If tough choices had to be made, I wanted to be a part of them. I have been very pleased with our overall budget the last few years and that we have been able to put money into our contingency fund. This has been achieved through increased funding from the state and following wise guidance and planning from our administration. Through a created culture of financial responsibility with staff we have been able to cut expenses and still meet the needs of the district. I know the contingency fund can be a point of contention, but if you view it like you would your savings account it makes financial sense. Unplanned expenses can and do happen. When the district’s monthly expenses average around $2.5 million, one can see if a hiccup in funding ever occurred or a large unplanned emergency, we would need that to continue our operation without changes. Just remember, the district’s yearly budget was never designed or intended by the state to replace buildings. A bond process was designed to fill that need.