Call to leadership right words for Board of Education

Listen, then lead.

That’s the right combination.

During a recent USD 373 BOE meeting, Board Member Angela Becker delivered a point near the end of the meeting for board members to think about.

“I feel that we have a problem with letting other people guide us and not taking charge and being the leaders we were elected to be,” she said.

She made that statement after a presentation made by the DLR group and Gravity Works Architecture recapping the 16-point comprehensive plan they worked on for the school district and the past bond issue.

Right now, the school board sits on a large amount of information it paid for relating to a future bond issue. It has a scientifically conducted community survey it spent $17,000 on to understand, in part, why the last bond issue failed. It has a communication study that it paid for which lays out what patrons find right and what patrons find wrong in the school district.

Those two pieces of information provide a lot of common sense insights, which we’ve been saying for a long time on our editorial page.

Eighty-nine percent of the 400 respondents of the scientific phone survey thought the bond issue failed because it added too much to the district’s bonded debt.

Eighty-four percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed in the survey that the price of the bond issue was why it failed.

Eighty-five percent of people agreed that some parts of the bond’s project list being unnecessary led to it failing.

Seventy-one percent agreed that people didn’t think the high school needed the third gym the bond issue would build.

These aren’t murky numbers. These are the clear answers that the district paid for.

Board Member Jennifer Budde noted that the district had the information, and should it ignore that information, the community would notice.

She suggested looking at some of the core issues in the survey and forming a bond around those.

Board Member Toby Tyner also suggested looking at past assumptions, evaluating how those assumptions have changed and picking a few steps to proceed with.

These are the right sentiments.

The school board doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel with the next bond issue. It doesn’t need to sit down and memorize its 16-point comprehensive plan for rote. It needs to simply give direction to school administration as well as the companies it employees.

Both DLR as well as Superintendent Deb Hamm asked for direction at the meeting. While people sometime take shots at Hamm, her job is to work within the confines and direction set by her school board. That’s hard to do if no direction is given.

Becker is right about leadership. The school board should use the information available to it and form a plan around that for a bond issue that can pass. That still leaves plenty of room for community input.

The district knows from its surveys there’s support for fixing up parts of the high school. So fix that up.

The district knows that respondents found that the bond issue was too expensive and that some projects were unnecessary. So the board should evaluate the least important projects, using all the data and information it has, and cut them out of the bond issue.

That brings the cost down. There shouldn’t be an item in the bond issue that the district can’t make a clear, concise case for.

We fully believe the Newton community would support spending more on education if its elected officials presented a clear picture on what it was spending its money on and why that was necessary.

Such a picture looks better coming from the school board, not a company it employs that will get a cut of the total bond issue Heck, residents might even support building a needed elementary school if the district placed that school on the south end of town, where it was needed, where growth is projected and where it would help continue to spur development.

We take hope with some of the comments expressed at last Monday’s meeting. Should the district expect to pass a future bond issue, it’s going to need all of its board members answering that call to leadership.