USD 329 promotes bond issue on November ballot

Emma Alderman | @whscharger

On November 3, Wabaunsee County voters will decide whether or not the county should pass a new bond to fund USD 329 schools.

The bond, worth $24.65 million, would fund renovations and maintenance of district school buildings. 

The district plans to reduce the number of school buildings down to two: a K-6 building in Paxico where Wabaunsee Junior High currently stands and a 7-12 building where the current high school and Alma Grade School stands. 

The proposal includes renovation and reconstruction to both of these buildings to get them ready to accommodate the increase in students and staff. 

“Currently the schools in our district cover 100,000 square ft more than districts of the same size. This means we as a district pays over 100000 dollars per year in property tax more than other districts our size,” Superintendent Brad Starnes said.

Many WHS staff members see positives in the plan. “As a parent I think it would be phenomenal if all the Wabaunsee County students could attend school together starting right away instead of waiting until they are in 5th grade. As a teacher I think it would be easier for collaboration in and between grades to occur,” science teacher Brandi Miller said.

A VOTE YES sign sits in front of a house on Kansas Street in Alma. The proposed bond would consolidate the five current district school buildings into a K-6 in Paxico and a 7-12 in Alma. The district has town hall meetings planned to converse with voters about the needs of the district. For more info on the bond, visit Photo by Jayna Keller.

Funding the bond would increase property taxes on Wabaunsee County residents. There would be a mill levy increase, although the current 20-year bond is set to expire, so taxpayers might not see a huge change from their current tax bill. Projections for the cost to property owners would be a $14.98 a month tax for a $100,000 home, or an annual total of $179.76. For a home worth $200,000 the property tax would be $29.96. The median home value in Wabaunsee County is $111,900. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some changes had to be made in the plans for the bond vote. Originally, the district wanted voting for the bond to happen in April, but with the rising number of COVID-19 cases it decided to delay it until November. “We didn’t have the opportunity to give people information and now we feel like we have a plan in place to be able to do that,” Starnes said. 

The pandemic has also affected the ability of campaigning for or against the bond to happen due to the decrease of group gatherings and minimizing of capacity limits. The district is now planning three town hall meetings in various USD 329 buildings. The first meeting will be held on September 30 in the Maple Hill Elementary gym, the second October 8 in the Wabaunsee Junior High gym and the third October 19 in the Wabaunsee High School gym. All meetings begin at 6 p.m. Social distancing and masks will be required of anyone attending and the meetings will also be live-streamed on the USD 329 YouTube channel. 

If the bond doesn’t pass, the district will have to look at alternative ways to address the problems that need fixed in the schools. The board might also look to try to pass another bond after more discussion with the community. If the bond does pass the district will start looking into making more detailed plans for the current and new buildings’ renovations and start implementing them as soon as possible.

Some citizens are promoting the bond themselves by forming a “Yes” committee in the county to increase awareness of the district’s needs. The committee consists of various community members from all across the county and even some district employees. 

The committee communicates through email and also met in-person September 23. They have yard signs and are working on highway signs supporting the passing of the bond and preparing answers to community questions.

“We have the opportunity as citizens to influence the future decisions of our school and buildings,” said Sam Capoun, who has a daughter attending preschool in Maple Hill. “Our challenge in our district is it is so spread out. Would it be ideal to have one central location for everything? Likely. However, this option was looked into by the bond committee this past fall and the costs were just too high. Instead, we have the opportunity to take two existing buildings in the district and repurpose them to be efficient and functional schools for our youth. This is how we become sustainable for generations.”

More information about the bond, including preliminary building plans and tax implications,  can be found on the USD 329 website. 

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