With election day now 13 weeks away as of Monday night, the Newton school board addressed the next steps of a bond campaign that would see a realignment of grade levels throughout the district and significant renovations to Newton High School and Walton Rural Life Center.
The decision to move forward with that bond issue was reached two months ago, in the midst of the summer. As the new school year draws closer, the district is working to get information out in the public regarding the specifics of the campaign. A fact board for the general bond issue is already on display at the McKinley Administrative Center and Superintendent Deb Hamm said plans are to have one in each school, along with more detailed boards pertaining to building-specific renovations at NHS and Walton (which have not been delivered yet). Hamm also stated that the information will be presented at all public events leading up to the start of the school year.
In addition to the infographics, Hamm went over the rules of how the board can proceed in addressing the bond campaign in public and noted there will be a presentation for district staff next week regarding the "dos and don'ts" of campaigning.
"Our responsibility is to inform the public, not to ask them to vote in a particular way," Hamm said.
Hamm said architects from DLR group will also be back to go over the same topic with school board members and see if there's interest to be active in community groups, as well as gauge interest in taking information on the bond issue out to be presented to community organizations. The district is also awaiting official approval of the bond campaign (having tentative approval from the Kansas State Department of Education), with the state board of education to vote on the issue Tuesday.
Moving forward also requires the board to start making some decisions on how to handle the construction project prior to a vote, like deciding if it would like to hire a construction manager at-risk. With a construction manager at-risk, one company would be hired to make decisions regarding what products and contractors are used for the various jobs tied to the bond project (i.e. adding storm shelter space, upgrading security, etc.).
"They're really trying to be the person that's looking at what the architects are doing and designing to get the most use of the dollars that are available," Hamm said. "The winning firm would do the construction piece of that, would have that piece, and they would be involved in everything in the design and planning to make sure the district's interests are addressed."
Asked about other options by board members, Hamm said the district could utilize a bid by build process, which would require the district to bid out all the different components individually and take the lowest bid for each component. Hamm noted she talked to many superintendents who have used a construction manager at-risk on such projects and spoke very highly of it, though board member Barb Bunting was leery of the additional price tag.
"It would be nice if this service were part of the architectural firm," Bunting said.
Board member Steve Richards noted he was interested in learning more about it, while Dick Koontz said he would want to see a construction manager at-risk willing to work with local contractors. No decision was made on Monday, as Hamm said a request for bids would have to be put out, planning to came back to the board and seek such action at its next meeting on Aug. 21.
In other business, the Newton school board:
Approved the consent agenda items, including approval of audit services and school lunch program milk bids for the 2017-2018 school year.
Approved the 2017-2018 budget for publication, with Director of Business Services Matt Morford laying out a proposed overall budget of $49.4 million in 2017-2018, up about $1 million from last school year, with a proposed total mill levy of 54.065 mills for USD 373 (fairly consistent with the total over the past three years). That increase in budget is nearly equal to the estimated increase in general fund state aid of $937,000. Morford also noted this year marks the transition back to a funding formula calculated per student, not through a block grant.
Accepted the gift of a press break (valued at $8,00) from MoRidge Manufacturing for use by students taking classes as part of the Ag department career pathway.
Re-addressing the tabled issue of committee appointments, the board approved members to continue serving on current committees (including the Vocational Advisory Board, Public Building Commission, etc.) through the end of December and then making new appointments as new members come onto the board following this fall's election.
Noted appreciation for district staff in completing the budget process under unusual — truncated — conditions this year.
Discussed the impending resignation of board member Tim Hodge and how to handle his replacement, with board president Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs suggesting the use of past practices — opening an application process for the position and having the board make a selection based on an interview process. Bunting suggested looking into other practices utilized across the state so the board might have some options to choose from in how to fill that position.