Less than a dozen individuals attended the public informational meeting about the McPherson USD 418 bond issue Tuesday.
After explaining the details of the $13.25 million bond issue to be on the ballot, Randy Watson, superintendent and meeting leader, said he hoped this was not foreshadowing of a low voter turnout for elections April 2.
"I don't know by the small turnout tonight whether that's a good sign or bad sign," he said. "My worry, and it's a worry in every election, is that nationwide the number of people that are going to vote is going down."
He added its possible less than 20 percent of registered voters in McPherson will determine who is on the school board, in city offices, and if the bond will pass.
"That saddens me," he said. "Obviously the school board is putting this out in hope it passes. But my hope is people become informed and vote. Because that way we know people have exercised that right."
Monday was the second public informational meeting on the bond issue. School administrators have spoken to local clubs, talked on the radio, set up a Facebook page, and used other avenues to get the word out.
The district is not allowed to spend money on a "vote yes" campaign. Money was not raised for signs or other advertising per the suggestion of a community-comprised bond advisory committee. Committee member Jerry Fithian of McPherson said this was decided because of what he calls the "wow" factor.
"The wow factor that we can make numerous changes throughout our district and lower your taxes," he said. "When I first read it in the paper I thought it was a misprint. I've taught accounting for 4 years and you just don't do that. We thought it would stun people and then they'd ask questions and we could explain to friends, neighbors and siblings."
They would explain that the bond would fund projects at four of the district's school buildings.
At McPherson High School, a production welding and machining shop would be added, and science classrooms that have settled due to the drought would also be repaired and upgraded. At Lincoln and Roosevelt Elementary schools, changes will include a new cafeteria and warming kitchen to aid scheduling. At Washington Elementary School, the 1950s addition would be rebuilt to become more energy efficient, increase instructional space and expand parking.
If approved, the new bond would replace a bond from the 1990s, which is due to expire. The new bond would result in a lower bond and interest mill levy, dipping from the current amount of 6.497 to an estimated 5.5 mills.
All projects will take about 2 ½ years to complete.
McPherson resident and middle school parent Kerry Gillis said he thought the focus of the bond issue should have been more on maintenance and renovations that would need to happen regardless if the bond issue is passed.
Page 2 of 2 - "The fact is there's a lot of work to be done," he said. "And that needs to be the focus of things. You guys need to be letting the public know these things are going to happen, and even if they vote this down (and the current bond issue expires), what I see happening is you'll have to increase the mill levy to do these repairs."
Watson said the district has tried to communicate the bond issue is focused on renovations and maintenance for the next 20 years.
"I think the approach is, is it better to do this and maintain and kind of renovate, or let it go off and try to just hang on for a few years, and what does it cost to go back?" Watson said. "Those are some unknowns. I can tell you what it costs to build a new high school or middle school. Those costs are greater. So this is kind of taking two 1980 buildings, a 1950s and a 1920s building and a 1960s building and trying to keep the taxes level. Maybe that's a better way to put it."
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