It wasn't an overly large, nor tough, crowd that greeting Superintendent Deb Hamm for a round table discussion at Druber's Daylght Donuts in downtown Newton on Thursday morning.
But they did want some answers.
Like how much money the school plans to spend, and on what, if an upcoming bond election would go in favor of the schools.
She had those answers ready and on colorful handouts. The increase in property taxes if the bond is successful will be 8.43 mills — nearly $100 per year for a home valued at $100,000. The total bond issue, including reserve funds, is set at $61.295 million. Approximately 28 percent of the bond would be matched by funds from the state of Kansas.
For some other questions, she had members of the facility task force who could help with questions about the decision making process.
From the funds they are asking for the district would receive renovations to Newton High School including a new science wing, a new storm shelter that will double as a gymnasium, renovations to the school auditorium, changing a current gymnasium to a multi-purpose room, kitchen upgrades and renovated locker rooms.
"The high school is the most immediate need," said Barry Wentz, who served on the community task force charged with creating a plan. "... What needed the biggest solution was the high school."
It was those renovations that drew the only real criticism — above the total size of the mill levy increase — from those in attendance. One person questioned why a new gymnasium rather than a new auditorium.
The short answer was cost — a new, larger auditorium was estimated at $18 million while a new gymnasium/storm shelter estimated at $4 million.
"We had a lengthy discussion about that," said Mallory Morton, who was a member of the task force and is now running for the board of education. "I was one who said we did not need a third gym. But in talking with architects ... we found out that we could not renovate any part of the existing high school to create a storm shelter. It had to be new construction. ... When we looked at the costs of an auxiliary gymnasium versus a new auditorium, the costs were significantly higher for a new auditorium."
Also part of the plan is renovating the elementary school in Walton, creating a two section school for all grades kindergarten through fifth grade. Other elementary schools would see fifth grade move back to their buildings as they receive security and storm shelter upgrades. Santa Fe and Chisholm would convert to middle schools, with security upgrades. Cooper Early Education Center would see security upgrades and a new storm shelter.
Other topics broached during the roundtable discussion included a teacher shortage, if teachers should carry weapons at school, school security, the number of transitions a student makes in their career and the creation of an Ag Academy at Newton High School.
The next Railer Round Table is planned for 11 a.m. at Back Alley Pizza, 125 W. Sixth.