Gradually moving forward on the path towards deciding on another bond issue, the Newton Board of Education came to a fork in the road on Monday night.
One branch of the path was shorter — targeting April 2019 for a vote on a potential bond — while the other was slightly longer and pushed that timeframe for action back to fall of 2019. Additionally, during discussion of its options, multiple board members also brought up the idea of getting the bond vote away from the November election and potentially delaying it until April 2020 (or earlier).
Speaking to that shorter path, consultant Kevin Greischar of DLR Group stated that it is the most truncated yet feasible option. Based on current bond projects submitted to the state board of education, though, there is currently only $24 million left (under the state's cap space) for any other projects in 2019.
For that reason, Greischar suggested waiting until the current round of bond issues are voted on and seeing if additional funds under the cap become available — with the idea of Newton presenting its bond language and amount in December. Steve Shogren, Senior Vice President of George K. Baum and Company, suggested the school board be ready for action even sooner (November) as bond projects are approved on a first come, first serve basis.
"I don't see anyway we make a November deadline," said board member Toby Tyner.
"If we're going to engage the community in this, that would be very rushed," said fellow BOE member Steve Richards.
Waiting until the fall of 2019 or even into 2020 comes with its own risks, though, as Shogren noted two schools in the Kansas City area are projected to be submitting large bond issues in the 2020 fiscal year that would take up a lot of the state's bond cap space.
Board member Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs felt the district could not wait that long anyway, as the needs of the high school are a huge concern in her eyes — which is why she favored a vote in April 2019, as quick of a turnaround as that may be.
Jennifer Budde countered that while she sees the need for work at the high school, there are other buildings in USD 373 with equally pressing needs (i.e. Walton and its need for more permanent classroom space).
"I would love to do everything at the high school, but there are other needs on top of that that also probably can't wait another four to five years," Budde said.
Roughly speaking, the high school portion of the last bond came with a price tag of $35 million, so even if a bond was tiered to address that first — which presents its own set of drawbacks — there is currently not enough cap space to facilitate such a project.
Some of that space could be freed up come November, which is why Greischar and Shogren advised working on an expedited timeline to take the earliest opportunity in pushing a potential bond through — but concerns were raised about how patrons of the school district would view that.
Among members of the board, there was a feeling that April 2019 would be perceived as "too soon" to vote on another bond issue. Others felt that if the information gleaned over the past four to five years were made available and easily digestible for the public at-large, that would help ease some of those issues regarding the timeline.
One issue that kept coming up with the timeline regarding a fall 2019 bond vote was how the previous bond vote was linked to the school board election. It was an experience that Tyner called challenging and detrimental, and part of the reason a vote in April 2020 was presented as a third option — not wanting to "muddy the waters."
Numerous hurdles were brought up in the discussion, but as Superintendent Deb Hamm pointed out the decision in front of the board was to decide on its next step in the bond process and choose a timeline to follow. While November felt a little soon, the board was in consensus to monitor the progress of other bonds across Kansas school districts and potentially have its proposal ready in December (or January 2019) — with the potential to keep adjusting.
"We need to address our issues and the community input is critical to us, so we'd like to try our best to get that in an abbreviated timeline," Tyner said, "and if it doesn't work out because there's no money or we're not getting the community input that we would like to have then we move to a longer timeline."
Additionally, the board directed Hamm to start to the process of selecting a construction partner on the potential bond project (which would need to later be approved through adoption of a resolution) immediately.
In other business, the Newton BOE:
Approved Matt Treaster as board president, Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs as vice president, Joni Jantz as board clerk, Matt Morford as deputy clerk and Jane Nichols as board treasurer for the 2018-2019 school year.
Approved the consent agenda, including the disposal of Newton High School items, a career and technical education cooperating agreement with Halstead USD 440 and more.
Approved the grade six through eight science curriculum revision.
Approved a draft statement on class size in regards to the district's comprehensive plan.
Approved numerous organizational resolutions for the 2018-2019 school year (including designation of official depositories, establishment of petty cash funds, setting board meeting dates, etc.).
Approved current board members to continue their committee assignments for the 2018-2019 school year.
Approved a gift request of $1,325 from Chrysler Cars for Classrooms (through Kranz Motors) for Cooper Early Education Center.
Was informed of a $100 donation made by Dillons to Cooper for playground balls.
Received the USD 373 administrative handbook for review.