Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson school board candidates would rather repair and upgrade existing schools than pursue multimillion-dollar construction projects.
Candidates said they don’t plan to build new schools and instead want to take care of current buildings. They said they saw no need for more buildings and thought voters spoke clearly when they rejected a $26 million plan to build a new elementary school and expand the high school and intermediate school.
They said that the schools now mostly need maintenance projects, such as heating and cooling upgrades. The candidates said they want to minimize the burden to taxpayers while pursuing any improvements.
The school board recently borrowed $2 million to replace Indian Creek High School’s heating system, tiling the high school pool, replacing windows at Indian Creek Middle School, setting up wireless Internet and converting the central office building so it can be used for the district’s alternative education and early college program.
Five candidates are running for three of the five seats on the school board. But one candidate is guaranteed election because of the school district’s bylaws, Johnson County Clerk Sue Ann Misiniec said.
Current board members Greg Waltz, Joey Dallas and former board member Ed Harvey are running for two at-large seats. Every voter in the school district, which includes Nineveh and Hensley townships in southern Johnson County and Jackson Township in Morgan County, gets to vote for two candidates.
But Waltz is guaranteed to be re-elected, even if he gets the least votes of the three, Misiniec said. The real race is between Dallas and Harvey, because only one of those two can serve on the board, she said.
Here’s why: The district’s bylaws say that the board will have a representative from each of the townships and also two at-large members, Misiniec said. But the two at-large members can’t both be from the same township.
Dallas and Harvey both live in Jackson Township in Morgan County, so only one can serve as an at-large board member under the rules. Waltz is the only at-large candidate from Nineveh Township, so there’s no barrier to his re-election, Misiniec said.
Two candidates, incumbent Kathy Vest and retired teacher Sam Hoagland Sr., are running for the Nineveh Township seat. Only Nineveh Township residents can vote on which of the two will take office in January, deputy clerk Reagan Higdon said.
Hoagland said a main concern is the construction of a new elementary school.
“It came out in a public meeting that Indian Creek is still considering building a new elementary school. I’m open-minded about it; but right now, as a property owner and a taxpayer, I’m not in favor of that,” he said.
More than 70 percent of voters cast their ballots against a plan that would have spent about $15.7 million on a 500-student elementary school and about $10.2 million to expand the high school and intermediate school.
Hoagland said he voted against the referendum in 2009, and if the proposal came up again, he would be in favor of having a second referendum.
Vest said she supported the referendum but that the plan hadn’t been discussed since then.
Instead of a new building, the district has focused on maintaining and improving the facilities it has, she said.
For instance, the district is using part of a $2 million bond to turn an old building on the district’s property into a student learning center or alternative school for students who struggle academically, Vest said.
“I’m not sure what will happen, but since the corporation already owns it, the current board felt like they could put money toward the building to help with that problem,” Vest said.
Harvey said workers just put a new roof on the high school, and the focus should be on maintenance projects, such as putting new tile on the pool. He said work was planned at the middle and elementary schools, including boilers and the heating and cooling system.
However, the board must watch the cost of any projects and be careful in choosing what work is most needed, he said.
“School buildings always need improvements,” he said. “But officials must prioritize those needs based on funding and the burden to taxpayers.”
Harvey said he supported the plan to build a new elementary school and expand the high school and intermediate school but said it no longer was being considered.
“The issue will not come back,” he said. “There are other issues, and the community spoke loud and clear and voted it down by a three-to-one margin in a referendum.”
Dallas said he was not on the board when it came up with that plan and completely opposed it. He said the board has started talking about a less-expensive elementary school that would have to go to a referendum.
He said he didn’t know how that would be possible in this economy, since the project could go over-budget and could add to operating costs.
“It’s misleading to the public and superseding the will of taxpayers,” he said. “The people said they don’t want it, and it’s not fair to put such a tax burden on them.”
Dallas said he wants to keep existing buildings functional, such as by upgrading roofing or heating and air-conditioning systems. He said the $2 million bond would let the district address many issues, such as roof repairs.
“This board is very committed to trying to keep up buildings,” he said.