SOUTH HUTCHINSON - The Nickerson-South Hutchinson USD 309 school board followed the recommendation of a steering committee, said school board member and bond issue advocate Jason Ontjes.

The steering committee favored a two-question ballot, with improvement packages of $24.5 million and $9.5 million, respectively, for a total of $34 million. The school board voted for - although not unanimously - a one-question ballot containing $29.9 million in upgrades and additions.

“We do believe it was followed,” Ontjes told an audience Monday night at a forum sponsored by 309 Bright Future at South Hutchinson Community Center. Just under 30 people, including Interim Superintendent Jeanne Stroh and some other USD employees, attended the hour-long program.

“There’s a lot of tension in our community,” said the chief speaker, Jesse Blasdel, active in 309 Bright Future. His wife, Shiloh Blasdel, teaches at South Hutchinson Elementary School, and they have four children in district schools.

Organized opposition to the bond issue contends that the $29.9 million question in the Nov. 5 election is too big. Yard signs for and against the bond issue are planted in yards in the school district. 

The USD 309 mill levy will increase by about 45% if the bond issue passes, Blasdel said, but the household’s overall property tax bill - which will include city or township, county, state, and community college mill levies - won’t rise by 45%, he stressed.

About ten minutes in the 60-minute program was reserved for questions. Written questions included one asking if it was a good idea “to burden your children and your grandchildren with this much debt?”

Not too many children and grandchildren would be responsible for the 25-year bond issue, Ontjes said. He added that he likes to refer to it as an “investment.”

Another written question asked about the total cost of the bond issue, including interest. An estimated 3.3% interest rate on the $29.9 million bond issue would put the overall cost over the 25-year life of the bonds at roughly $48 million, Ontjes said. He noted the state’s contribution is expected to amount to about 10% of the $29.9 million, or $2,990,000.

Would the district come back with another bond issue for more projects before the 25-year bond issue expires? Ontjes was asked.

That’s not the plan, Ontjes said, but he could not predict what future school boards might decide. 

An audience member said his stockbroker said the economy was very close to a recession. It comes down to the decision you feel is best for your household, Ontjes said. “We’re not promised tomorrow,” Ontjes said.

Ontjes’ wife, Erin Ontjes, is an educator in USD 309. He is running for re-election Nov. 5 and faces a challenge from Gordon Roth, who is opposed to the ballot question. Ontjes said he had has heard many, many times that if a bond issue fails, it is virtually impossible to pass a second bond issue. He said he was working toward passage, knowing in his heart “this is the right thing to do.”