Voters argue that Hays’ $489 bond is too high in times of economic uncertainty
By Cristina Janney
Community members gathered on Tuesday to voice their opposition to the proposed $489 Hays bond issue, mostly citing inflation as the reason why now is not the right time to build a new school.
About 60 people attended the meeting, not all of whom were against the school district’s $143.5 million bond proposal.
The link includes the construction of a new high school, the transformation of the old high school into a middle school and the middle school into a new primary school. Roosevelt and O’Loughlin Elementary Schools would also be renovated.
Joe Wilkerson, one of the speakers at the meeting, said the sharp increases in the cost of energy, food and gasoline are reasons not to embrace a bond issue at this time.
“Now is not the time, in our opinion, to build new schools,” he said. “We may need to make repairs and updates. I don’t think anyone is against that.
“What we need to do the most is be careful and hunker down, because right now we don’t know what’s coming.”
Adams Peters, billed as a conservative author, said the war in Ukraine would likely increase the cost of fertilizers and feed, which could lead to food shortages.
“It’s going to be more difficult for people who are already struggling to make ends meet,” he said. “These are often the elderly, single parents and low-income families.
He continued, “If we raise property taxes, it will lead to higher rents. If we impose a sales tax, it will cost the registry more. The people who will be hardest hit are those who can least afford it.
“We have to ask ourselves if it is reasonable to add additional costs to them.”
Peters said that although bail has been touted as a way to attract more people to Hays, it could kick out low-income families who are already here.
A mother who teaches at home said she could not afford the taxes that would be associated with the school deposit.
“What am I supposed to give up for my son to pay for this?” she says.
Cathy Hopkins, who ran for school board but was not elected, said the new schools did not equal better test scores.
She cited test results from the Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank, which showed the Liberals, Garden City, Dodge City and Great Bend all scored lower on 10th grade math and English tests. year in 2019 compared to Hays.
All of these schools, with the exception of Hays, have passed bonds over the past 10 years.
However, Mike Morley, who served on the last two bond committees, said later that evening that those communities had very different student demographics than Hays. Liberal, Garden City, and Dodge City all have high percentages of students from immigrant families who do not speak English at home.
He said the higher percentages of English language learners at these schools could explain the differences in test scores.
“Do you crave new spaces and moveable walls, which were images that were shown at these committee meetings… do they help children learn better? Do they really improve test scores?” said Hopkins.
DLR, the district’s architectural firm, cites in its work with schools a study published in the European Scientific Journal which found that learning spaces have effects on student engagement. According to the study, higher student engagement is in turn correlated with increased student academic performance.
Hopkins said the school’s architect encouraged the bond committee to dream big. She said that’s not the reality when you go to your loan officer and ask for a loan for a house.
“I just want a [bond] who is accountable to our entire community,” she said. “It’s every member. Our kids who are in high school now will be in their forties when it gets paid if it passes.”
Several people in the group asked how much DLR would be paid if the bail was accepted.
This information was not available at the meeting. However, Hays Post was able to obtain further information from the school district.
If the bond passes, DLR will receive 0.33% of the bond. It will be $473,550. DLR has already invested 2,800 hours without being paid. If this bail fails, the District may request an additional bail attempt at no additional cost.
DLR will receive additional fees for school design and renovation projects. These fees will depend on the complexity of the project, according to the DLR.
Hopkins also expressed concerns that the district was closing smaller neighborhood schools and consolidating into larger, four-section elementary schools.
Wilkerson said the school district has closed four schools in the past 20 years, including Catharine, Munjor, Washington and Kennedy Middle School.
Morley said only about 18 pupils attended Munjor when that school was closed as a primary school. Catharine also had low attendance, and Washington consumed a disproportionate share of the capital budget for repairs due to her age.
Hopkins said capital funds were misused. She alleged that new office space and a private bathroom had been built for the new high school principal. Chrisy Crough, $489 Outreach Coordinator, said HHS Director Shawn Henderson does not have a private bathroom. Administrative offices have been reconfigured to create offices for the new HHS mental health program.
Again citing the Kansas Policy Institute, Hopkins said that between 1993 and 2021, the state has seen an 8% increase in enrollment, a 17% increase in teachers, a 42% increase in managers, and a 49% increase in non-teachers.
Cindy Weigel, administrative assistant at Fort Hays State University, expressed concern about how traffic will be handled if the new high school is built on 13th Street.
She said she once lived in the high school neighborhood and was hit by a high school student. She said she was concerned the school district had announced a specific traffic plan.
Weigel also expressed concerns about increases in recent valuations.
Doug Williams, executive director of Grow Hays, said later in the meeting that although the assessments were released, the tax bills were not. He said in a Hays Post article on Monday that assessed assessment increases do not necessarily equate to tax increases.
Morley said the bond’s interest rate will be locked in if the bond issue is accepted, much like you lock in your interest rate when you buy a house.
The exact payment of the bond, including interest, will be affected by several factors. Data on all of these factors are not available at this stage.
The district does not know what the exact interest rate will be when the bond is funded.
Another variable is the amount of sales tax collected by the half-cent sales tax. Any additional income over projections would cause the bond to be redeemed early and therefore reduce the total interest paid, according to Piper Sander, the district’s bond attorney.
Increases in the appraised valuation could also cause the bond to be paid off more quickly and a reduction in the amount of bond interest paid.
Weigel said she was fed up with the new taxes.
“With new high schools, new roads and more taxes, will this ever end?” she says.
Weigel said she fears rents will rise in Hays if the bail passes and it will be even harder for families to save and invest in homes.
She criticized the special election. It will cost the district $20,000. She alleged the district chose a special election instead of the primary because it would mean lower voter turnout.
Morley said that was wrong. He said a special election was chosen because issues that are thrown out of congressional races typically receive less attention. Many voters vote for the big races and don’t vote for the races at the end of the ballot, he said.
Morley encouraged people to vote in the special election, regardless of their vote. Early voting begins Monday at the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main, Hays. Election day is May 10.