Voters in the Newton school district made their voices heard on election day, with a hefty bond issue on the ballot Tuesday. While it wasn't a resounding sentiment, there was a enough opposition throughout USD 373 to ultimately see the bond issue fail (with 56 percent of the vote against).
The bond issue aimed to secure funding — not to exceed $61.295 million — for renovations to Newton High School, renovations to Walton Rural Life Center and safety and security upgrades to other district buildings. While it ultimately failed, Newton superintendent Deb Hamm and Board of Education President Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs noted the needs outlined in the bond issue remain pressing for USD 373 — with no other funding sources readily available.
"Our capital outlay dollars will not be sufficient to make the changes that need to be made," Hamm said. "We just don't have enough resources to take care of everything that needs to be done."
"School funding is very specific as to what you can use different monies for," Hobbs said. "There isn't the the money out there to address the needs of the science classrooms. There isn't money out there to address the needs of safety for natural disasters or otherwise. There isn't the money out there without a bond issue to address our needs of space and reconfiguring to best use the space that we have. I'm not sure how we're going to problem solve it without looking at another bond."
As such, Hobbs knows the district and school board has plenty of work ahead and the entities will have to be focused in restarting a dialogue putting together the next effort to address the needs outlined in the bond issue.
The timeline of any plan of action becomes cloudy now that the bond has failed. Hamm said she doesn't expect another bond issue to be ready before the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2018), so getting back to work is critical because of the changes that need to be made.
"We don't have a plan B, so now we will be developing a plan B," Hamm said. "The difficulty is in the changes in the state law that may or may not make moving forward easy."
Given that the bond issue was voted down, Hamm stated there are two primary conditions the district and school board will need to keep in mind. The first is that USD 373 cannot submit the same bond proposal for consideration to the state board of education. Since the bond issue failed, the district's proposal would automatically be one of the last proposals considered (along with other districts that saw bond issues fail in 2017, like Hays and Solomon).
Secondly, a new bond issue for USD 373 can only be approved for election if other districts are moving forward with approved bonds and there are enough state-matching funds left over.
Whatever that next effort is, the three new school board members (Angela Becker, Jennifer Budde and Toby Tyner) elected Tuesday will have a major role in it and are aware of how much of a focal point that will be when they officially take their positions on Jan. 1, 2018.
"I knew that going into it, either way, whether the bond passed or failed, that was something that was going to be a big task ahead of us," Becker said. "With it failing, I think we need to get to the root of why it failed, what specifically were people against, address that and come forward with a new bond as quickly as possible."
"Our first priority is going to have to be getting with the voices who need to be present for our community to figure out what sort of bond do we need to put together and in what sort of timeframe that our community will approve because our schools do need a bond," Tyner said. "Our schools do need improvement. The high school is in dire shape, so we have to figure out what sort of package we can put together that everybody's going to approve."
Classroom space and safety needs are just two of the items that Hamm said have to be addressed moving forward and while the engagement from the community in the vote was what the district wanted to see, she said some of that will have to start over again in coming up with a new plan for Newton schools.
The question of why the bond failed is something all parties agreed will need to be identified — seeking feedback from the community — in the work that comes next as the district administration and school board come together to find a solution to the issue at hand.
"Once I saw the result of the bond issue, immediately you start thinking about all the work that has to happen. Obviously, we have a huge task in front of us, and it's not going to be fun and it's not going to be easy, but it's something that needs to be addressed and addressed immediately," Budde said. "Our needs, obviously, are not going away, so we have to talk about how to go forward."