Having broached the issue of class size at its last meeting, the Newton Board of Education turned its attention to the next obstacle to tackle as it pertains to comprehensive planning for USD 373 on Monday.

Before diving too far into the next major topic of conversation, though, while it was nearly uniformly agreed upon that the BOE would be moving on from the issue of class size currently (due to space limitations) there were also strong feelings shared about keeping class size reduction as a long-term goal.

"We need to make sure that, as far as I'm concerned. it's front and center for every conversation about the future of the district," board member Toby Tyner said.

Shifting gears, the facility needs within the district were brought up by board member Steve Richards, pointing out both the specific issues at the high school and the broader question of potential reconfiguration in the middle schools.

"For me, I think two of the elephants in the room are still the condition of the high school and the configuration of Santa Fe/Chisholm because what we do with those are gonna have a strong influence on both our ability and costs to address the other issues" Richards said.

Reconfiguration also tied into a discussion of diversity and talk of providing some balance in terms of demographics within the buildings across USD 373.

Addressing that is something superintendent Deb Hamm noted would require some additional information should the board continue to move in that direction.

"If we're going to work towards equalizing the schools — each school has a similar combination of students — in order to do that, then you have to have a boundary study," Hamm said.

Other information requested from the board included research on best practices regarding middle school configuration, as well as a potential update to a staff survey for feedback on a potential shift to a sixth, seventh and eighth grade middle school structure.

Circling back to the facility needs themselves, safety and security of the district buildings was also discussed at length as Hamm brought forward a preliminary proposal looking at what could potentially be done with capital outlay funds.

Looking at some items that were brought up in the previous bond issue (i.e. additions/improvements to storm shelters), as well as measures like keyless entry, Hamm noted the financial details of the proposal weren't concrete. Having not put out a request for proposal that was expected, though the uncertain future of the district buildings also put a wrench in the works of weighing whether or not to move forward with those potential improvements. In that regard, too, the board requested some additional information.

"I would like more details per the kind of things that are possible," said board member Angela Becker. "I know that's more work, but I'm okay with an estimate."

No matter what officially comes next in the comprehensive planning stages, communicating information clearly to the public was agreed upon to be key moving forward.

Of course, the board has to have a clear purpose as well and while there are a lot of moving parts, board president Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs noted she sees the value in breaking the key pieces of the comprehensive plan into sections.

"How does this all intertwine? That's the challenge, I think," Hobbs said, "is how do we pull this apart in manageable bits to be able to digest it and make decisions."

Ultimately, reconfiguration/demographics, safety/security and a comprehensive planning timeline were agreed upon to be the focal points for the board at its next planning meeting in June.

In other business, the Newton BOE:

Heard concerns from both students and parents during a period of public comment regarding bullying and sexual harassment at Chisholm Middle School. Noting multiple incidents over the course of the spring semester, the speakers questioned what more support could be provided — and how perpetrators could be held accountable — to promote a safe school environment that all students want to be a part of.
Recognized the 2018 Friends of Education award recipients including Tami Lakey, Kaylene Dicken, Carolyn Penner, Kris Wondra, Wendy Harris, Dr. Charles Craig, Dr. Richard Glover and Dr. Jennifer Koontz.
Recognized Newton High School students Erik Brown and Gracie Hammond, who have been nominated for the Governor's Community Service award recognizing the tireless volunteer efforts of high school students.
Heard a report from Walton Rural Life Center students on the projects they have taken on for the Ag fair, an end-of-the-year showcase. Projects included gardening spinach, broccoli and cauliflower, harvesting wheat to make pizza, reducing the amount of trash in the ocean and powering homes/businesses/farms with clean energy.
Recognized the district's 2019 Kansas Teacher of the Year elementary education nominee, Sunset Elementary's Debbie Miller.
Approved the consent agenda, including the purchase of chromebooks for the district, personnel report, etc.
Approved revisions to the USD 373 transportation guidelines.
Approved the reappointment of Jodi Runge to the Newton Recreation Commission board effective July 1, 2018.
Adopted a resolution of final action for the Board of Education in regard to the nonrenewal of Janice Henne's contract.
Approved Resolution 05-14-18 authorizing the offering for sale of general obligation refunding bonds for USD 373, which Steve Shogren (George K. Baum and Company) noted represent a potential present value savings of $108,555.24 over the remaining life of the bonds.
Approved the USD 373 building administrator contracts.
Approved gift requests from the Gene Haas Foundation ($8,000) for NHS Machining Program and scholarship, Chisholm PTO ($2,000) for Chisholm Middle School field trips, Central Kansas Community Foundation ($2,175) for Walton Rural Life Center teachers to attend a national ag conference, South Breeze PTO ($1,900 ice machine) for South Breeze Elementary, Nancy Schlup ($1,845.57) for South Breeze resources, Jill Coffey ($1,000) for Harvey County Special Education Cooperation, Harvey County United Way ($11,500) for USD 373 Latchkey scholarships, Jeff Yoder ($100) for Cooper Early Education Center graduation books, Sharon and Duane Issel ($50) for Slate Creek Elemetary's SMD class zoo field trip, Kim Fiessinger ($400 piano) for Santa Fe and Hmm ($129 picnic table) for McKinley Administrative Center.
Received handbooks for review from Cooper and the transportation department.