District awaits survey results for bond direction

By Adam Strunk

The district will hold another bond issue vote. Outside of that, little was decided at the work session the board and incoming board members held on Monday night to discuss a future issue.

The meeting opened with Superintendent Deb Hamm giving a PowerPoint postmortem of the previous bond issue.

During the presentation, she listed a number of factors that she received feedback on as to why the community didn’t approve the bond issue in November. The district is currently waiting on survey results to give them a better picture of why the bond failed.

“What we don’t know, because we haven’t done the survey yet, is what they would say was a leading factor or any factor in their decision,” Hamm said.

The factors she did mention included the cost of the bond, the lack of a school on the south side of the highway, the debt load of the district, a change in class configuration, as well as the addition of a third gym at the high school.

She then went through the points and explained why they were included in the bond; for instance, the third gym would allow more room for students to use at the high school and function as a storm shelter.

She said some of the decisions, such as remodeling existing spaces instead of building a school south of Highway 50, came from the group of district patrons who met to discuss and form the bond issue. After the presentation, discussion began in earnest.

Different board members had different suggestions on how to move forward. Allen Jantz said getting more community input was essential to a future bond issue.

“We need to find out what the community feels, and the survey would give us the data we need before we do much else,” he said.

He added that the district should figure out what its critical safety and security needs are, ones that might have been addressed in the bond issue, and look if the district could use capital outlay funds to address the needs.

The district currently levies 6.9 mills for capital outlay projects. It would be able to levy up to 8 mills for capital outlay, something Jantz said he’d support doing if there was the need for it.

Board Member Angela Becker acknowledged the need to use capital outlay to accomplish essential projects but worried about district patrons approving a bond issue as well as paying the increase for the capital outlay fund.

Across the board, it was generally acknowledged that the district will need to move forward with a bond issue, though the when about it was not decided at the meeting.

How the bond would be structured, as in a single or multiple question format, was also discussed but not decided.

Board Member Barbara Bunting talked about certain discussions, whether to completely remodel and expand Walton or build a school south of the highway, as being polarizing and suggested splitting up the vote.

“We had talked about having multiple questions in the bond, and the high school was one of them. That’s the one we’ve heard about for the longest period of time that touches all of our students and impacts the graduation rates,” she said.

Incoming Board Member Toby Tyner also said splitting the bond into questions could be a good idea, as it broke it down into smaller, more approachable chunks for voters.

Jantz also seemed to express interest in the matter.

Richards expressed concerns that patrons might pass the least important questions and reject more important questions.

Hamm pushed back against the idea of splitting the vote, saying that if they split it up, they are saying all of the needs aren’t as important.

“In terms of transparency, it’s important that the board say that these are all of our needs,” she said. “If we don’t do all of this, we will be back here in five or 10 years. There needs to be a long-range planning to address these problems that aren’t going away.”

That was another subject board members seemed to agree on: that a bond was needed to address district needs.

Incoming member Jennifer Budde said that information should be passed forward to the community.

“The needs can’t be filled any other way,” she said. “If you fail another bond, we’ll just come back with another bond until you pass it for us.”

Board members also expressed a need to better market the bond.

Becker, Bunting, Tyner and others said the district should look for ways to better translate professional language or “jargon” into language the public can understand.

Richards suggested hiring a public information officer to help with the bond effort.

Bunting said that perception of such a move would be important, and if the district were to hire a public information officer, it should do so to effectively communicate its total message, not to just push a bond vote.

Board Member Dick Koontz put in his two cents on the issue, saying that perhaps it would help to have innovative and inspiring actions included in the next bond issue. He said people are more likely to tolerate increased tax burden if they believe in and are inspired by actions instead of merely tolerant of them.

All of this seems to be on hold until the survey group the district hired puts out and receives survey responses from at least 400 district patrons about the bond issue. That should come back in mid January.

For the time being, Board President Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs suggested that board members contemplate a number of questions, such as priorities for a bond issue, how to communicate the need for a bond issue and when the district should put it on the ballot.