• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

Pro, anti-school tax forces gear up for June 26 vote

ABOUT 30 PEOPLE came to Woodford County High School Saturday morning for a tour of the 54-year-old building. Schools Superintendent, Scott Hawkins, right, said he believed at least a couple of attendees hadn’t decided whether they supported raising property taxes to pay for a new high school. (Photo submitted)

Woodford County residents will see plenty of arguments for and against the proposed 5.5 cent tax increase for a new high school until a June 26 special election settles the matter.

They’ll also see more criticism of the two chief proponents of competing arguments: Woodford County Schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins, leading the charge for the increase, and his predecessor, Paul Stahler, leading the fight against it.

Hawkins, who’s been superintendent since 2008, said he’s never been through anything like this.

“‘Interesting’ is probably the best word I can use to describe it. I understand that there will be some who will be opposed. I guess I have been a little disappointed that there have been more attacks and it’s been really more personal than it has been about the facts as they relate to what we’re trying to do,” Hawkins said.

“It gets personal. When you talk about money, it always gets personal, unfortunately,” Stahler said.

Hawkins said the Woodford County Board of Education and pro-tax supporters have tried to remain positive and make sure citizens have accurate information. Stahler said his side has done the same.

Saturday, Hawkins gave about 30 people, several of them wearing yellow “I Support Our Schools” shirts, a tour of the building the new school is intended to replace. He said most of the attendees support the “facilities tax” to pay for a new high school, but that he spoke with a couple of people he thought hadn’t made up their minds yet.

“The main purpose behind it was to allow people in our community who maybe have not been inside that building before or … for a long time just to see the inside of the building. Just to see what our classrooms look like, just to see what our cafeteria looks like, our gymnasium, our weight room, science labs,” Hawkins said.

Visitors were also shown photos of new high schools in Lexington and Robertson County, “Just to let them see what new, updates spaces could look like if we were to move forward with a new high school,” Hawkins said.

On May 20, the Board of Education’s campaign will move into high gear at the proposed site for the new high school, next to Woodford County Middle School on land the board purchased in 2012. Hawkins said the $5,000 the Board appropriated for the campaign will go to buy magnetic bumper stickers, door hangers and yard signs for supporters to display.

“There are going to be some efforts there, just as you would see in any campaign,” Hawkins said. Stahler said his side, now operating under the name “Woodford County Taxpayers Against the WCBE Tax Hike,” will do the same, but likely on a much smaller scale.

“The last 30 days before the election, it is our plan to put out some signs – not a great deal (of them) because we don’t have a lot of money. Whatever we get will be paid for by the individual, and we’re not collecting money. We’ve had some offers (of donations), but we haven’t accepted any at this point,” Stahler said. “Don’t really plan to do that, because (we) don’t want to keep up with trying to check on who’s paid what …”

Stahler also criticized the school board’s decision to spend taxpayer dollars on a political campaign. (His letter to the editor is on page two).

“I have a problem with that. They’re spending, at this point, by my calculation, they will spend over $63,000 to get this on the ballot (and passed). They paid an attorney $8,500 to basically appeal our signatures … they did that at 3:45 one afternoon, and then that night, they repealed it because they knew it was going to take a year. Couldn’t you figure that out ahead of time? The attorney should tell you that this is going to take awhile,” Stahler said. “I just don’t think you should pay taxpayers’ money to promote a tax.”

After retiring as superintendent, Stahler won a seat on the school board and voted for the 2012 decision to pay $1.298 million for 61 acres adjacent to the middle school, which opened in January 2005. Some have criticized his apparent switch on the issue, but Stahler said it’s not that simple.

Stahler said the land was purchased without borrowing money, and that he believed the present Woodford County High School wouldn’t need to be replaced as quickly as Hawkins and company want.

“I just felt like with the timeframe that we were kind of looking at then, which was a fairly significant timeframe – don’t ask me how many, but it was probably 10 years, anyway – I just saw as that land was developing, just moving the high school, we’d have more trouble finding land as you went south. And this was a place to put it in town, so to speak,” Hawkins said.

Monday, Hawkins said he still hasn’t spoken to Stahler and that not one person on the five-person committee that gathered enough signatures to put the matter on the ballot came to any of the public forums on the issue. Stahler said he believes one committee member did attend a meeting held at the high school library, but he couldn’t because his wife was awaiting hip surgery at the time and off her feet for six weeks.

Hawkins thanked the “I Support Our Schools” group, some members of which he said don’t have children in Woodford public schools, and members of the school board for their efforts.

“It’s not easy to step out there and take a vote on an increase in taxes, but I think it shows their commitment to our students … and our community as well,” Hawkins said.

Stahler said he believes that effort will fail.

“Given past experience, we will win, but the county has changed a lot, so I don’t know how much support is out there for it. I guess we’ll see …” Stahler said.

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