The USD 489’s School Bond proposal was rejected by voters on election day. It was the third time in recent years a school bond has failed. After the last bond failed a couple of years ago, I wrote a letter explaining why I believed that one failed. At that time I argued that the single most important reason was a lack of trust in the school board. But a close second was the $94 million price tag.
I believe the failure of this year's school bond was for one overarching reason – its still massive $78 million, 30-year bond with a resulting $154 million tax increase on property owners. There were obviously other reasons why people voted against the bond, including a more subtle sense of a lack of trust in the school board, but in the end they factored less into the results. Several analogies will help illustrate my analysis, two of which are general in nature and one that is personal.
A person wants to engage in farming. That person has a couple of options. 1) Start with a piece of land with perhaps a home on it. As time goes on the farmer wants to expand and decides to buy more land, more equipment to farm the land, maybe even some cattle. The farming operation grows at a rate that is affordable and sustainable. 2) The farmer dreams about a farm with a lot of land, equipment and so forth, and wants it all now. In order to accomplish this dream the farmer will have to get the help of a banker, but the banker questions whether the farmer's plans make sense and declines to loan the necessary money.
A person wants to become and oil and gas developer. That person has a couple of options. 1) Start with some knowledge and experience in the oil field, acquire some leases, find some investors and start drilling some wells. With time the oil operator adds to the inventory of leases, develops a good list of investors and drills more wells. Maybe the oil operator even acquires other types of oilfield equipment, like a pulling unit or a water truck to generate more revenue, all of which allows the oil operator to become more efficient and successful. 2) The oil operator dreams of a big vertically integrated oil business with lots of wells, a pulling unit, a water truck and maybe even a drilling rig and thinks it's better to have it all now. After all, who knows how much all that equipment will cost 10 or 15 years from now. So, the oil operator goes to a banker to explain the plan and gives the banker all sorts of reasons why now is better. The banker, however, doesn't share the oil operator's optimism, questions the yearly financing expenses to buy all that equipment, and doesn't loan the oil operator the money needed to accomplish the oil operator's dream.
My wife and I moved back to Hays in 1985. In 1986 we bought the house in which we currently reside. It was a 56-year- old house then and had no central air or heat, galvanized pipes, a cobbled-together electrical box that couldn't support central air, and didn't have a garage. Initially we spent our money on new plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems. Looking from the outside and at the inside the house didn't look any different. But these were truly needs. As our family grew we wanted new bedrooms and baths, a remodeled kitchen, a functional basement and a garage. It took us another 14 years to accomplish our needs as well as our wants, and finally built that garage in 2000 just in time for our oldest child's high school graduation. We could have gone to a banker in the beginning and asked for the money to do everything right away. However, we realized that the likelihood of a banker loaning us all the money we would need to build our dream house all at once was slim based on our business earnings at the time. So, it took us longer and the costs of construction increased somewhat over the years, but in time we were able to get what we wanted by saving and borrowing as little extra money as possible as we took on each new project.
The point is the property owners who pay the taxes necessary to finance any school bond are the bankers. The bankers, other than the overwhelming majority of the vision team, school principals and teachers, tried to suggest to the school board a different approach to improving our school buildings, but the school board didn't listen.
Once again, the vision team's plan endorsed by the school board took the all-or- nothing attitude to achieve the needs and more importantly the wants for improvements to school facilities. Once again the school board ignored the voices of those who earnestly desired things to be done differently, as well as its own polls which informed the school board that individuals in the community at large that were not represented by the vision team wanted smaller more frequent bonds. Once again the school board relied upon out of town architects to “guide” the planning process which in time, interestingly enough, produced a bond with the highest dollar amount possible. Once again the school board failed to understand or appreciate the local politics involved in a bond campaign and failed to rely upon those with extensive campaign experience who could have been helpful. Once again the school board used tax payer dollars to inundate us with those slick four colored brochures to justify the plans and attempted to use an academically faulty Rutgers University study to puff up the alleged economic benefits of the bond, while ignoring the actual negative impact the bond would have on our local economy.
USD 489's school bond was rejected 61% to 39%. Given all the effort and resources expended by the school board and the vision team in this political campaign, one could reasonably conclude that it was a noteworthy failure. In addition, one rather obscure item in the election results is politically telling and significant. The Under Votes in the school board election were double the Under Votes in the Hays City Commission election – 6,426 to 3,206. Will the school board appreciate the meaning of this cryptic tidbit of information?
So the question now for the school board is whether or not it will be open to different ideas about how to put together another bond. Or will it once again only listen to those who have become a part of the echo chamber that is represented by the vision team members and architects who produced this failed school bond. In other words, will the school board learn from its past experiences with failed bonds or will it simply repeat the same flawed process yet another time?
I am not sure of its origin, but there is an often used saying that suggests one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. For the record, despite accusations to the contrary, I was not against a bond when I started as a member of the vision team, and I am not against all bonds. Obviously though, I favor a different approach and I think I speak for a substantial number of other people in this community who will not speak out publicly for fear of the consequences. As some of the school board members already know, I am willing to use my political experience to assist in formulating a different plan. They just need to let me know.
Thomas M. Wasinger,
Vision Team Member
With a Different Viewpoint