Newton BOE eyes possible bond election

By Blake Spurney
Harvey County Now Staff

NEWTON—The USD-373 Board of Education received an outline Monday evening for how an upcoming bond election might transpire.
Stephanie Meyer, with DLR Group, said the district could hold an election Nov. 8. The district has discussed in the past holding a small bond issue to address structural and safety needs with Lindley Hall, as well as the Santa Fe building.
Meyer recommended for the board to hold town hall meetings to provide as much information to voters as possible. She said one should be in person and another one should be held online. She said the district wanted to be transparent as possible heading into the election. She noted that the district had an active presence on Facebook.
Superintendent Fred Van Ranken asked if the district was at least two years away from having a gymnasium for Santa Fe 5/6 Center students.
Vince Haines, with Gravity Works, said a renovated gymnasium would be ready in early 2024 at the earliest.
Meyer also suggested that board members be active in describing the district’s plans to community organizations and church groups. She said a mailer explaining the plans ideally would be sent out to every household in August.
Meyer’s outline was proffered under the parameters that the bond issue would not be more than $8 million. That is the amount of bond indebtedness the district could take on without having to increase the mill levy. Board members previously had indicated that the district should use the district’s current infrastructure. Therefore, Lindley Hall would be renovated instead of a new gym being constructed.
“We don’t want this to be a tax increase over what we’re currently collecting for the bonded indebtedness that we have,” Superintendent Fred Van Ranken later explained.
No action was taken.
Board members discussed raising the meal prices for students for the upcoming school year. Free meals have been provided to students the past two years through child nutrition waivers. Elaine Gaeddert, director of food services, recommended modest increases in breakfast, lunch and milk prices. The district currently allows students to have five unpaid meal charges before they receive an alternate meal, which is a cheese sandwich and milk.
Board President Mallory Morton said she wasn’t for making any changes for the upcoming school year.
Board Member Melissa Schreiber suggested holding off on changing the unpaid meal limit from five to three until everybody was back in school.
Van Ranken said he shared information with Morton the other day about how the Newton district was unique because its general fund didn’t subsidize the food program. He said the food services staff did a good job of staying within budget.
The board elected to keep the food prices in place.
In other business, the district:
•approved a services agreement with Next Era Element for leadership training. Next Era Element will receive $52,500 for providing the training. Van Ranken said he felt strongly that the training would help administrators and directors.
“It’s expensive, but leadership training is expensive,” he said.
Van Ranken said he reached out to someone in Salina who told him that the same training helped save an organization because its members learned to resolve conflict in a positive way.
•approved a memorandum of understanding with the Newton Recreation Commission for a latchkey program using the four elementary schools. Van Ranken said it was a great program that should be extended another year.
•approved early graduation requests for Opportunity Academy students.
•approved a $5,000 gift from United Way.
•went into executive session for 20 minutes to discuss non-elected personnel.

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