By Adam Strunk
It was a bit like a hearing on Capitol Hill as the board of education listened and questioned the bond advisory board’s recommendation for a future bond issue. Due to a drawn out executive session, the discussion didn’t begin until nearly 9 p.m., and by the time the meeting ended at 10:27, the district hadn’t accepted the advisory board’s recommendation and will hold a work session to continue to work through a possible bond option before its June meeting.
The presentation started with Elizabeth Gunn of the bond advisory board updating the board of education on the group’s meetings about bond configurations.
Much of the presentation was a recap, and Gunn said making decisions was tough because of all the opinions and insights.
“It was good to be part of the process to see the data come together and the consensus parents and teachers came to with the presentation,” she said.
The option features a major interior renovation to the core of the high school, which hasn’t had serious renovations since 1973.
“Basically, all the systems and needs you’d need to run the high school will be renovated and most of them replaced,” Advisory Board Member Tim Dudte said.
Other areas of the high school will see moderate remodels, as well as upgrades to the performing arts wing as well as dollars allocated to the gym and pool.
“It’s really addressing all the older parts of the building. It would add a new gym as a storm shelter,” he said.
Willis gym would also be a multipurpose room, which could be used for gym and athletic activities as well as science activities.
Remodeling would include a new $4.6 million science wing, in addition to the already renovated science areas.
It would allocate improvement to the kitchens and the locker room, as well as furniture and equipment.
The high school remodel in its current form is estimated at $41.2 million. Only a few spaces such as the entrance of the building and the library would not be remodeled in some way under the plan.
The rest of the plan would run $18 million and would include a storm shelter at Chisholm and safety updates throughout the district, including school access controls, video surveillance and security. There would also be furniture updates.
Plans would switch the grade school structure to K-5 and the middle school structure to 6-8.
Walton would get an $11.7 million renovation that would remodel existing space and expand its footprint.
“We need to be responsible for the educational needs and be careful how we strike the balance on the financial side,” Dudte said.
Dudte said, with his experience as an architect, he thought there was integrity in the process with how DLR, the district’s bond advisory group, conducted the evaluation.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $59 million, though the price was not discussed during the presentation of the bond issue.
That would mean a 9.72 mill increase if a bond vote would pass. That would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $112 more annually. The owner of a business of that value would pay $243 more annually in taxes.
School Board Member Barb Bunting asked Gunn if they took the demographic report into account; Gunn said they had.
Bunting was asked to clarify the question, and she said the report showed future growth on the south side of Newton south of Highway 50.
“In that demographic report, we currently have enough seats in our district even if we get that five and a half percent growth projected for the district,” Advisory Board Member Mallory Morton said.
School Board Member Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs also said she heard the phone survey hung up on multiple respondents. She asked how often that occurred and if the about the survey gave an opportunity for the respondents to answer in Spanish.
Representatives of DLR said it did not ask questions in Spanish. However, he said that the survey had an adequate number of responses to be adequate. The questioning continued.
“As a board member, I have received possibly some of the most feedback regarding our current configurations, and I see the recommendations are changing that,” Bunting said. “Most of the 5-6 and 7-8 communication has been positive. I wondered how that factored into your discussions.”
Gunn said the committee heard both positive and negative feedback about the configurations. She also brought up that in the past when they changed to the current configuration, there was hesitancy for the switch. The switch was made during discussions as the strongest option to help with student spacing within the district.
Dudte also jumped in.
“The visioning team looked at this question several different times,” Dudte said. “It wasn’t just once.”
Hobbs continued discussing the survey, asking if it mentioned to respondents that the Walton program would be transferred to a new school south of town if that school were built. She was told that the questions did not address moving the program’s location.
Board Member Steve Richards asked if the question gave respondents any context or just asked a yes or no question if the respondent would favor a bond issue that closed the Walton building.
He was told that’s how the advisory board structured the question.
Bunting said the district never discussed in any way doing away with Walton’s learning program, whether it closed a building or not.
Dick Koontz wrapped the questioning up, saying the hour was getting late.
“I think it might be helpful for the board to focus on the next steps,” he said.
He asked if members would be ready to vote on the recommendation heard that night or would be ready to vote in the next meeting in June.
Richards said more time and information would be needed.
He also said multiple people questioned the feasibility of splitting the bond question, putting the high school remodel as well as district safety and security into one bond question and using the other to address possible elementary school remodels or constructions.
Superintendent Deb Hamm asked others with more experience to weigh in on a split bond option. Information on that option could be presented at a possible work session.
Koontz asked if the board would need to have a work session of some kind between now and a June vote. He received oral confirmation from the rest of the board.
Staff was directed to poll the board on possible meeting times.
At the end of that discussion, Stayrook Hobbs said she will always support Walton and its programming, but she has to consider the dollars and cents of the issue as well as the possibility of district funds decreasing in the future.
“That’s why I had to ask some pointed questions,” she said.
Tim Hodge, who had been conducting the meeting over cell phone, then ended his call as his phone battery was about to die.
- The board tabled a vote on renewing the Walton Rural Life Center Charter Renewal until the June meeting.
- In the public comment section of the meeting, Katelyn Black, high school sophomore, spoke, saying Walton Rural Life Center helped her in her education.
“I feel that I was able to learn a lot of problem solving and critical skills from my experience at Walton,” she said.
Another parent of an extended learning student addressed the board, expressing concerns about the future of the program at Chisholm Middle School.
- John Hosford of Shelter Insurance was recognized as a Friend of Education by the school board for his contribution to Newton District fundraising efforts as well as providing scholarships.
- Chris Tuohey of Sand Creek Station Golf Course was recognized for a Friends of Education award for offering free support and training to the Newton District.
- Tina Payne of the Harvey County United Way was recognized as a Friend of Education for filling out a teacher wish list through United Way through collaboration with local businesses.
- Carter Clothing Store was recognized as a friend of education for conducting large scale annual pajama drives.
- The district paid $356,386 for 1,350 Chromebooks, plus Google Management and licensing.
- The board accepted the following donations: $1,000 from Millennium Machine, $2,221.26 from Allmetal Recycling, and $1,000 from Park Aerospace Technologies to the Newton High School Robotics team for traveling expenses to the National Robotics competition in St. Louis later in April.
It accepted the donation of materials valued at $6,350.00 from Full Vision, Inc. to Newton High School to be used by students in the welding technology program.
It also accepted the donation of $2,000 from the Chisholm PTO to Chisholm Middle School to help with costs of the 7-8 grade field trip.
Finally, the board accepted crisis kits from Midway Motors, a lawnmower from Joe Yohon, and five iPhones from members for district administration for the school’s virtual reality program.
- The board heard a brief discussion of high school classifications. 5A and 6A classifications could move up from 32 to 36 teams if schools approve the changes. Athletic Director Brian Becker recommended voting in favor of the change. He was authorized to do so.
- The school district approved its personnel report. It had 18 resignations/terminations. That included Jennifer King, an assistant principal at Chisholm Middle School, and Melissa Sullivan, a school psychologist.
- K-4 art teacher Beth Burns was recognized for being named a PBS Digital Innovator for her work with technology in the art room.
Burns used digital methods to help students with art projects to get them interested in art and to aid in their information retention.
As part of the award, she will travel to a national conference to San Antonio to meet the other state winners.
- The meeting lasted three hours and 29 minutes, which is a high water mark for Newton Now BOE coverage history.