Letter to the Editor

School bond questions answered

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Dear Editor,

For about the past three years, the Board of Education of the Hayes Center Public Schools has been at work trying to address facility needs brought forth by administrators, staff members, students, and patrons.

The 1996 addition was a strong move forward, as the board members at that time recognized the needs to bring more diverse curriculum to the school through distance learning, the need for an expanded and accessible library along with administrative and a conference /multipurpose room. This has served us well. We have now come to a crossroad where repair and renovation of the existing facility triggers a large dollar investment just to meet required codes before making needed updates or changes that address the problems we're facing.

A comprehensive solution was needed to a diverse problem. This plan was developed to address most of the facility needs of the school district in what was believed to be the most efficient manner for taxpayers. We believe this new $2.8 million dollar proposal provides the most cost effective way to support the facilities needed by the district. A 20 year repayment schedule is available at the school. A separate structure to the west of the present high school will have eight furnished classrooms, a commons and concession area, restrooms, gymnasium, locker rooms, and a weight lifting/exercise area.

This would also include the cost of real estate, excavation of land, utility hookups, sidewalks, a parking lot and some landscaping. In addition to the new construction, several projects to update existing facilities are also being included in this bond issue. Addressing roof leaks creating more classroom space for vocational agriculture, relocation of the classrooms from the second floor of the original facility, adding supplemental heating/air-conditioning units to the elementary, replacing old elementary windows with new thermal pane windows, installing a new phone and communications system, and freeing up classroom space at the elementary for a private nurse's room, resource and Title 1 needs.

The following questions have been asked of the Board and we thank you for the opportunity to reply in this Open Forum.

Why hasn't there been a public informational meeting?

This bond issue has been an agenda item at nearly all the open board meetings in the past several months. The board held a special meeting on Dec. 5, 2005 to distribute information about the upcoming bond election. There were four patrons in attendance and no media. Due to the poor attendance, the board is holding neighborhood informational meetings conducted by a board member in convenient locations across the district.

Has or will Hayes Center Public Schools experience declining enrollment?

For the past 20 years there is no question that southwest Nebraska has been losing population and thus the schools have been losing student enrollment. The Hayes Center School district is the exception to the trend. In the April 15, 2005 edition of the McCook Daily Gazette it was reported that Hayes County was the third fastest growing county in the state, behind only Sarpy and Cass counties for the rate of population increase during the period of July 1, 2003 to July 1, 2004. Although one cannot specifically put their finger on any one reason for this contra cyclical trend we have been experiencing, it lies in part to at least several factors. At the top of the list in our opinion has to be the quality of educators and staff employed by the district. Our present enrollment is comprised of approximately 25 percent of students from other school districts that have option enrolled into our district. None of these families were forced to have their children educated here, but have made that choice. Another factor at work in this trend is the community support given to the students.

With the growth of the ethanol and livestock industries in our area, along with our improving access to wireless communications and computer technology there is reason for optimism. Student enrollment has been a valid concern voiced in the community. Thankfully our enrollment has remained stable. Those opposed to this project continually point out that the number of students in the lower grades indicates there will not be enough students in the future to justify this project. Although class size starts out low in the lower grades they increase as the classes grow older. The number of students in the lower grades has traditionally been a poor indicator of what actual high school enrollment is. Using the size of the kindergarten classes of the present four high school classes would project current high school enrollment to be 62 students. The actual enrollment for those four classes at the beginning of this school year was 95.

Why do we need eight new furnished classrooms?

At the same time our classroom space has been pressured by student enrollment, the courses required for accreditation have also increased. Classes in Computers, Web Design, Foreign Language, Journalism, Psychology, Economics, Drama, Pre Calculus, Physiology and Conditioning are now required to fill areas of accreditation that were not required when the present facilities were built. In order for students to be adequately prepared for college we are also offering college preparatory classes.

At the present time two classrooms are devoted entirely to computers. The Federal No Child Left Behind legislation combined with the State of Nebraska's Standards and Assessments require schools to meet certain academic standards. Areas are also needed for the testing to meet the requirements for these programs. We also need to limit use of classrooms on the second floor of the original high school building because of building repair issues, Life-Safety Code issues, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and curriculum delivery issues.

Why do we need a gym?

Concerns have surfaced within the community for the need of a gymnasium. The existing gymnasium and locker rooms were developed before the advent of girl's basketball, intense physical education requirements, and Title IX gender equity laws. Title IX requires equal facilities for male and female students. The locker rooms for use by student athletes do not meet these requirements and must be updated. High school boys are leaving home as early as 5:30 a.m. for daily basketball practice while the girl's practices run late especially if practice doesn't begin until after a Junior High basketball game. The new facility would allow running two practices simultaneously on cross courts. Less than 30% of the total cost of the bond is attributed to the gym.

The benefits this project offer to the Hayes Center community and the county are numerous. The elderly and handicapped would have better parking and access to the new facility. A walking track and the weight and exercise area would be available for community use before and after school. We would have the ability to host more conference and district academic and athletic events resulting in less driving time and expense.

When will the project be completed?

Contractors have stated that they can complete this project by September 2006.

What are you doing to increase student enrollment?

As for our part in being progressive, we are working with Congressman Osborne's office in developing and enhancing programs in our school to train students in entrepreneurial skills. We hope that by educating students in the procedures for starting up a business that someday after high school or college they will be active business people in this community.

We have also initiated an agricultural magnet school as part of education here in Hayes Center. This magnet program would intensively train students for careers in agriculture. Since the vast majority of jobs in Hayes County and Nebraska are related to the industry of agriculture this would greatly serve our area and the state. In addition we would hope to attract students from area schools who do not have agriculture programs, students from urban areas interested in studying agriculture, and foreign exchange students. We would look to be able to transmit more agricultural classes via the distance learning network. The contacts established with post secondary education, extension, and agribusiness would also be very valuable to our students.

These are difficult times in rural Nebraska and everyone involved in this project has recognized that from the beginning. Unfortunately the facility concerns are urgent. There is certainly no good time to spend the amount of money being proposed, but waiting will not make the needs go away. No one likes to have their taxes raised including us but we as board members want to keep alive the vision and tradition of a quality school system in our county.

Please join those for the future of our school system and community in voting "Yes" on Tuesday for the proposed bond issue.


Vickie Gohl

Kris Kressin

Kevin Large

Randy Richter

Bob Rosno

Loran Wach

Board of Education

Hayes Center Public Schools

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