Ask 10 different people about what needs to be addressed in a school bond for USD 373 and you're liable to get 10 different answers.
While opinions will vary on the large-scale needs to be prioritized in a bond issue, it is those opinions the school district sought prior to the vote and continues to seek following the failure of the bond in this past election as it explores another bond option.
"If we don't have feedback other than just the people I talk to or happenstance, then we're not going to have a clear enough idea and what we would put forth might also not be the plan that the majority of the community would support," said Newton superintendent Deb Hamm. "The needs didn't go away, we still have all those needs, so how do we put forth a plan that the community will support, or at least the majority of the community will support?"
Putting together said plan moving forward, surveying the community has clearly been made a priority for the Newton school board — with Patron Insight being tabbed to handle those services this month. While the board waits on the results of that currently ongoing survey, an informal survey by The Kansan found a vast range of opinions on what should come next.
For some, the answer is simple — there should be no "next step" of the bond process at this time.
"I really think it's too early to try to do another bond issue, because the bond you're going to have is a cobbled up plan," said community member Tim Marlar. "I don't know that there's anything they could put in a bond issue right now that would get me to support it."
Others made it clear they would support a bond issue if the various pieces being addressed this past fall were itemized on the ballot, while some noted they would support a scaled-down version of the $61 million bond put to a vote this year, as long as funds are spent where most needed.
There lies another point of contention, as the areas of need are not uniform in everyone's minds. Some citizens stated improvements to the storm shelters should be the top priority. Security enhancements at the district schools were at the top of the list for others. More efficient spending was also outlined as a need, as was addressing the potential overcrowding issues.
"Within the next five, 10 years, if we do have an influx of students, we definitely would be struggling to serve all of those students with our current space at the middle school and 5/6 center," said Santa Fe principal Jen Smith.
Community members questioned the demographer's report that outlined said influx, but no issue was more contentious then the proposed renovations for the Walton Rural Life Center. Instead of renovation in Walton, some suggested constructing a new building in south Newton where it is believed the most growth is taking place, while others questioned if the district believes so strongly in that curriculum why it is not offered at all schools. Newton resident Lyle Carstenson even linked it back to the issue of efficiency.
"I don't like the idea and I can't understand how that can be efficient — to bus all those kids over to Walton," Carstenson said.
For Newton High School junior Kaitlyn Black, though, the necessity of improvements in Walton is clear.
"That should be our number one priority because they're doing great work and I don't think that they get recognized enough, and their needs are not being met," Black said.
Black (whose mother, Angela, teaches in Walton) pointed to the school's outdated facilities — including a second-hand mobile unit — and it's limbo status (with a current tech update request, to bring Walton to a level equal to other district elementary schools, on hold until its ultimate fate is decided) as hinderances to the educational environment.
Of course, Black has seen those hindrances first hand at the high school as well. She also helped make videos for the pro-bond campaign illustrating those negative aspects and the need to improve on a facility constructed in the 1970s in need of major improvements — like a new HVAC system and more solid classroom boundaries.
"That's not the world we live in any more and it just isn't good to learn in an environment like that," Black said. "When you have paper thin walls, that means during a test you can hear the other class that is watching a video and you can't focus."
Not just students, but teachers and administrators see the pressing need for those infrastructural upgrades as well.
"Those are the things that are not going to allow us to move forward. We don't have the money to repair those type of things in the budget," said NHS physical education teacher Lisa Antonowich. "If you spend all of your money, all your capital outlay, just making repairs you can't improve in any other aspect. Those are just must haves; those are critical needs."
"We need to do something with Walton. We need to do something with the high school," said South Breeze Elementary principal Jan Plummer. "Those aren't wants. Those are needs that need to be addressed."
Pinpointing the top needs as perceived by the community is only part of the battle, though, as informing the public of why those needs are being addressed is also a task the district has to take on, according to Hamm. A clear need — as Smith noted the issue of re-configuration in the bond issue may have causeed some confusion — it was something Hamm discussed with the school board at a recent work session regarding the next steps in the bond process, noting the dissemination of that information will be key.
"How do we get that information out to the broader public? That is a real concern moving forward because there's only so much information that you can put on a flyer or on a card that people are going to read when you mail it to them," Hamm said. "It is important, I think, for the community to realize that we really were looking at not just putting a band-aid on something to last five years, but really looking at what are going to be our needs over the next 20 and will this fix it?"