At each forum for the Newton USD 373 Board of Education Candidates a question has arisen in one form or another — if the candidates are supportive of an upcoming bond issue they are sharing the ballot with.
None of the six candidates were members of the board when the board chose to place the more than $60 million bond on the ballot. But sharing the Nov. 7 ballot with that bond has led to questions about the bond of those candidates.
At a candidate forum hosted by Kidron Bethel Thursday, Walton Mayor Barry Wentz got direct and to the point when he was pointed at to ask a question. He asked each candidate to state in a simple yes or no if they planned to vote for the bond issue Nov. 7. He told them they could elaborate if they wanted, but that he was looking for the yes or no.
In nearly every case, he got that answer — and he got the reasons why.
Two candidates, Andy Harder and David Oller, both said they were "on the fence" as the looked at the bond. Oller said he is a "maybe" that could become a yes Nov. 7.
"How come all these school boards in the past have not upgraded heating and air and things like that? I do not know why it is left on us at this point," Oller said. "However, it is and there are things that need to be (done). Does there need to a new gymnasium, I do not know if I agree with that but there are a lot of things in this bond that needs to be done."
Leaning yes, but unsure overall is where Harder said he was as well.
"I have seen the needs and the needs are real. The needs are not going away," Harder said. "The state would stop us from doing a bond again. I lean more towards the yes side because I think we need it. What I am unsure of is having a board behind it that will stop spending when the spending is done. I do not believe that it will cost $61 million. ... Some of the prices seem a little high and I don't know that we have the tax base to support it."
Angela Becker and Toby Tyner both stated they were no votes on the bond — but for much different reasons.
Tyner acknowledged the need of renovations to the high school, but is opposed to the bond based on what he calls "equality of access."
"My primary issue is social justice," Tyner said. "The right thing is addressing needs at the high school. ... the part of equality of access that concerns me is Walton. Now, I had a child that went through Walton and we had a fantastic experience and it is a great place. The reason it is so popular ... is it is on the cutting edge of best educational practices. ... What I wish our school board would have done ... is to put project-based learning into every elementary school. What we have right now is if you have the means and facility to access the system and understand how the district works or are able to get your child to Walton on your own, then you can tap into those best practices. If you do not ... you are out of luck."
Becker said her no vote is not about support of Walton Rural Life Center, though there is that perception.
"It is a great program for the community it serves, I just do not feel comfortable spending $11.7 million expanding that school," Becker said. "I think there are things that we can do within our current capacity to alleviate some of those issues."
Jennifer Budde and Mallory Morton both stated they were planning to vote in favor of the bond.
"When I talk about the bond I have to take off my candidate hat and talk as a parent," Budde said. "I have four kids who are going to go from the elementary school all the way through the high school. When my husband went through school at Newton High School, someone was funding his education. Someone invested the money. ... Now it is time to step up for our kids and grandkids. ... There are dire needs (at the high school) that need to be addressed."
Morton served on the community investment group that helped make a recommendation to the school board, which the board ultimately accepted on a split vote. She intends to vote yes, knowing the process that was gone through to come up with the proposal.
"Personally, I do not think every part of this is perfect," Morton said. "I don't think anyone out here would. ... We don't have the time to prepare a new, or fix this bond to address all the issues that we all have. I support this bond because I support our students. They need these upgrades. ... We have to address these issues for our students now, we can not afford to wait and hope for something different later."