As the Newton Board of Education and community vision team members near the decision date on whether or not to push forward with a newly formed bond issue, it was pointed out that the entities had a lot of ground to cover at a work session on Monday night.

Initially, the next work session — scheduled for Oct. 22 — was set out as the target date for a decision to be made on the total cost and what items would be included on the bond being pursued by USD 373. With some concerns being raised about the scheduling as the board nears that tipping point, architect Vince Haines noted that date is not set in stone — but there does have to be some direction behind the bond discussion.

"That's not a drop dead date; that's a date when we're gonna check our pulse," Haines said. "Do we feel good about what we're doing or do we do not?"

Haines recognized there might be some uncomfortable feelings moving the process along so rapidly, but he also highlighted the need to get going if action is to be taken following the upcoming election season — when more bond money may become available.

Moving towards that goal, Haines noted the idea Monday night was to focus solely on the scope of the work and not get bogged down in the more specific details of the project.

"We really want to talk a bigger scale and stay out of designing buildings," Haines said. "The dollars are there and we'll get into the nuts and bolts after the bond has passed."

Specifically, dollar figures were attached to the number of priorities the board and vision team had lined out at previous work sessions while Steve Shogren, vice president of George K. Baum and Company, was on hand to give some perspective on the bigger picture and how various bond amounts would affect taxpayers in the district.

Generally, though, Shogren noted the present is a better time to pursue a bond — as inflation is expected to affect interest rates in the next two to three years.

Breaking down into small groups, the board members and vision team outlined the scope of work they believe should be included in the next bond issue at each level (elementary, middle and high school) — adding up the total cost as they went.

For the high school, most of the groups were in consensus about moving forward with a majority of the renovations discussed — with renovations to the performing arts center and Ravenscroft gym being the main sticking points. Opinions on new additions were a little more split, regarding number of storm shelters and a brand new performing arts center.

Looking at potential storm shelter additions, there were varying opinions — though there was a heavy amount of support for having two shelters (with some dissent on which locations) — as just one shelter was viewed as unsatisfactory, being the bare minimum.

"They don't have to be that big, but we do want two," said vision team member Jan Plummer.

One of the groups even brain stormed a few separate options — including the addition of a second, two-court gym connected to Ravenscroft to serve as a storm shelter and a separate storm shelter to be installed near Brooks Trade Center. Additionally, that group pushed for the addition of a new science wing at the high school not to double as a storm shelter.

While there was some question about the prioritization of the science wing going into Monday's work session, that expanded idea did gain some support — especially as superintendent Deb Hamm noted that is an area that has been "woefully" under-supported in the past.

"If we don't expand the science wing," said board vice president Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs, "... we limit what they can teach in the classroom."

Middle school renovation ideas were more in sync, as the various groups were in support of plans for Chisholm and at least one addition at Santa Fe — though there was some uncertainty in regards to the latter. Among the elementary school options, most groups were in favor of all of the renovations to the various buildings though there was a prevailing thought that the future of Walton would need to be decided before any action is taken in regards to that building.

Final estimates for all the work approved by the various groups ranged in price from $37 million to $44 million, though some more information was requested by the board and vision team on certain items (namely renovations to Santa Fe 5/6 Center). With a deadline looming, the idea of an additional meeting was brought up to give the group some more time. Given the differing opinions on work at the high school, the idea was also brought up to hold the Oct. 22 work session at NHS — and deciding from there if another meeting would be necessary.

"I suggest that we have our next meeting at the high school because there's a lot of things that we talk about, but no one actually looks at," said board member Jennifer Budde. "It's the biggest portion of this bond; I think people need to see it."

In other business, the Newton BOE:

Heard a presentation from South Breeze Elementary kindergarten teachers Ashley Best, Lexie Pauls and Cindy Perkins on the bins of activities being implemented in the classroom to teach fine motor skills.
Approved the consent agenda, including payment of bills, the personnel report, treasurer's report and refinishing of the gym floor at Newton High School.
Approved South Breeze Elementary's mascot change from the roadrunner to the steam engine, rebranding as the South Breeze Steamers.
Approved issuing the director contracts as presented.
Received an $8,100 check from the Newton Rotary Club (from member Pam Stevens), raised for the district through the Birdies Against Bullying golf tournament.
Approved gift requests from Millennium Machine & Tool ($5,000 for the NHS machining program), Northridge PTO ($1,856 for the Northridge IXL math subscription) and an anonymous donation of $250 to Harvey County Special Education for the gifted program to cover the costs of the Kansas Gifted/Talented Conference.
Was presented with professional learning surveys completed on Aug. 13 and Sept. 17 for review (as required as part of the negotiated agreement).