Ray Maloney: The guy who wanted to say no
"If someone hadn’t taken a chance years ago and made sure I had a building where I could learn, maybe I wouldn’t be where I am today. We can do the same thing for the generations coming up."
Ray Maloney initially was a “no” guy. No new schools.
But now, he’s a decided “yes.”
After studying USD 257 schools for more than a year, Maloney has emerged as a leading voice in the campaign to build a new elementary school for $25.5 million with options to build a new science and technology building at the high school campus for $7 million and new heating, ventilation and cooling systems at the middle school for $2.8 million. Voters will decide April 2.
It’s a stunning reversal that surprises even Maloney himself. After all, in 2014 he was a leader of a “No” faction that helped convince voters to reject a school bond that would have built new elementary and high schools for $50 million.
In November 2017, he joined the USD 257 steering committee with a goal of convincing others the district didn’t need to build new schools.
“It’s a lot easier to say no. I know that better than anybody,” he said. “My reason for getting involved was because I didn’t want to sit out and say ‘no’ for no reason. They [other committee members] needed to prove to me why things had changed.”
It took several months to change Maloney’s mind. Tours of existing facilities, conversations with educators and a thorough examination of costs — everything from the expense of continued maintenance on existing buildings to the cost of remodeling to the savings expected from a new building — slowly shifted his position.
“The education system has evolved,” he said, and offered an analogy closer to his profession in the salvage business: “It’s like, you can’t work on your own car anymore. Things have just changed. It ain’t like it was when I was in school.”
Maloney, a LaHarpe resident, has long advocated for the need for vocational training at local schools. Not one to mince words, Maloney helped develop the Rural Regional Technical Center at LaHarpe, which provides college-level certificate programs in welding and construction for students throughout Allen County.
“I’ve always been the vo-tech guy. But you have to help all the kids succeed, and the science and technology building will be really good for the ones who want to go to college,” he said. “That’s what turned me around. If someone hadn’t took a chance years ago and made sure I had a building where I could learn, maybe I wouldn’t be where I am today. We can do the same thing for the generations coming up.”
Maloney has always been “the money guy.” He’s now in charge of the finance committee, an offshoot of the original steering committee, in an effort to raise money for the school bond campaign.
And as the current plan was being developed, Maloney was the voice of fiscal caution. One of his priorities was to stick to the basics.
“There were some (on the committee) who wanted the Taj Mahal. And there were some of us who wanted little better than an outhouse,” he joked.
He fought to keep costs down, and believes the current plan is the best possible solution to meet the district’s needs.
“We don’t want to build more than we need, but we want to have great facilities,” he said. “It’s going to take money out of my pocket. It’s going to increase my property taxes, but I hope it will come back around.”
Supporters have argued that building a new elementary school and consolidating three older schools into one facility could result in savings between $300,000 to $500,000 annually because of increased efficiencies such as reduced utility costs, fewer staff and less maintenance. While most say those savings can be put back into the classroom, Maloney wants the school board to look into options such as reducing the mill levy, helping pay off the bond or putting the money into a reserve fund for future maintenance needs or unexpected expenses.
“This time around, we’re going to keep their feet to the fire,” he pledged. “Last time, the (2014 bond issue) just showed up. Nobody asked me if I could afford it.”
Maloney says he discusses the bond issue with his customers at Ray’s Metal Depot. The conversation usually starts with a review of the nation’s political state, then trickles down to the local level. Most are concerned about the costs, so he sits down with them to figure out what to expect in additional property taxes if the bond issue were to pass.
“It all depends on what kind of property you have,” he explained, as residential, commercial and farm property are taxed using different formulas.
USD 257 school board member Dan Willis, from left, and Bret Shogren of George K. Baum & Company talk to Ray Maloney at a January meeting.
His objections to the 2014 bond issue — the costs, the location of the proposed schools, the way it felt forced on voters without their input — faded as the steering committee developed this new plan. He and his fellow committee members, who at first had been on opposite sides, eventually came to a unanimous decision.
“It kind of humbles a person,” he said. “It makes you step back and see we have a good community and there’s a lot of people who care. You lose sight of that when you’re not involved.
“I used to be that way. I said, ‘Oh, I can’t afford to leave my business and fight some of these battles.’ Now, a person can’t afford to not get involved.”