Kansas school district leaders see difficulty getting bond issues to pass

The districts said there's a need for upgrades, but with inflation and a higher cost of living, it's becoming harder to persuade people to vote 'yes.'
Published: Aug. 30, 2023 at 6:28 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - In four Kansas school districts Tuesday, voters turned down bond issues focused on expansion, improvements and upgrades. Voters in the Valley Center, Hugoton, Oberlin and Ulysses school districts considered bond issues that ranged from about $29 million to near $74 million.

While the rejections indicate larger financial concerns for voters, one school district in Butler County did see its bond issue pass Tuesday, the least expensive among the five considered across Kansas. Voters in the Bluestem school district approved a $13 million bond to fund school improvements like new classrooms in the junior-senior high school, plus renovations and security improvements to both the high school and the elementary school.

Valley Center’s $73.9 million school bond vote failed by less than 200 votes, preliminary results show. The unofficial count the Sedgwick County Election Office shared Tuesday night showed the “no” votes outnumbering “yes” votes, 2,159 to 1,983.

The bond issue included a new elementary school, 20 classrooms added to the high school and multiple smaller additions across the district.

Some voters said there are more pressing issues than upgrades to schools in Valley Center, like adding a grocery store.

“All of our kids grew up here, went to school, high school here, and they’re great schools. It’s just, I don’t think we need a brand new one. I think we need to fix the other issues that are in front of us, behind us, before we go forward,” Valley Center school district voter Joe Lynn said.

Valley Center Public Schools Superintendent Greg Lehr said the district must come up with solutions because it’s closer to reaching max capacity at buildings in the district.

“I think part of it is listening to our voters and listening to our people and talking to the people who voted ‘no’ and seeing exactly why they voted ‘no, what were the reasons behind it,” Lehr said.

In the three western Kansas communities of Hugoton, Oberlin and Ulysses, the bond issues failed by substantial margins, preliminary results showed. District leaders cited inflation and high costs of living as likely the main reasons voters rejected the bond issues.

“Inflation, rising costs, both for the district, but also for the typical homeowner. And so, I think all of those are concerns that our community had to consider,” Hugoton Schools Superintendent Adrian Howie said.

Oberlin Schools Superintendent Joel Applegate said voters may think the district can find other ways to fund improvements.

“Maybe they think we could do something cheaper, a different route of whatever, and that may be that this is the case, I’m not going to say. Mayber there is something different out there that we never thought of,” said Oberlin Schools Superintendent Joel Applegate.