The Newton Board of Education made some key decisions about how the next bond issue would be formatted at its last meeting — namely splitting it into two questions, with a second ballot issue for a new elementary school being added.
Holding a special meeting on election night Tuesday, the goal for the board was to clarify the bond language in further detail so it would be ready to officially submit its proposal to the state within the next week. Actions elsewhere in the state — namely the passing of a $129.5 million bond in Manhattan — made that a moot point on Tuesday, but the Newton school board was still able clarify at least part of the bond question at the meeting, coming to a decision on the format of the new elementary building that will be proposed.
Breaking down each part of the proposed bond agreed upon by the board and vision team, the discussion of configuration was brought up when the board reviewed the decision about including additional classroom space at Santa Fe 5/6 Center. Whether the new elementary question were to feature a K-4 or K-6 building weighed on the board as it considered additional space at the increasingly cramped Santa Fe building.
"I don't have strong opinions either way, other than that the overcrowding needs to be addressed," said board member Jennifer Budde. "I just want it to be resolved, whether it's (a) K-6 (building) or we're adding on."
While there were some concerns about getting away from the configuration (K-4, 5/6, 7/8, 9-12) the board had agreed upon in previous comprehensive planning for USD 373, the consensus was to pursue a new K-6 elementary building. Additionally, it was noted that the $1.6 million estimated cost for additional classroom space at Santa Fe could be worked in as a contingency plan on the comprehensive bond item (for improvements to all district buildings). If the second bond issue were to fail, that money would go to improving Santa Fe — instead of towards the new elementary building helping meet the additional space needs.
The next question the board had to consider was whether to make the new elementary building a two-section or a three-section building. Mostly, the board was in favor of a three-section building to work toward the entity's goal of reducing class sizes across the district
Expressing that overall vision will be key in getting support for a new elementary building, as the additional item makes for a big ask of the Newton community — with the two ballot issues coming with a potential price tag of around $80 million.
"Although I think it's an atrocious number that's going to be very difficult for the community to swallow," Budde said, "if we're going (forward) we have to go with what reasoning we have behind it, which is expansion and lowering class size — which is a three-section."
Looking ahead, Budde also questioned what would happen to Walton Rural Life Center in the future if there was a failure on the second bond question for a new elementary building. Specifically, Budde asked if a contingency (similar to the additional classroom space at Santa Fe) could be worked into the bond.
Currently, there are plans to address the immediate needs — namely making necessary improvements to the modular classrooms at Walton. Any type of contingency beyond that is difficult because it would come with a greater cost than adding more classroom space at Santa Fe — and the new elementary bond question is essentially meant to answer the question regarding Walton Rural Life Center's future.
"We're putting forward an appropriate, long-term solution in an appropriate location. Any other approach is gonna be problematic in one way or another," said board member Steve Richards.
Regarding the contingency, administration also pointed out that if the comprehensive bond question were to pass and the new elementary question were to fail that would free up some capital outlay funds to address improvements at Walton Rural Life Center.
Officially approving a three-section, K-6 elementary building to be featured on the second ballot question, no other official action was taken to set bond language given the results of the vote in Manhattan. The next potential target date for the board to submit a bond proposal will come in late January 2019 — with USD 202 (Kansas City-Turner) having a vote on a $44 million bond.
Getting out in the public and illustrating the need of these bond items was suggested in the interim, as board members viewed that as crucial in getting the community to accept a project with a total scope of nearly $80 million.
"The whole thing — the elementary school piece, the high school piece, the bond that is still as expensive as the previous bond — it all comes down to vision," said board member Toby Tyner. "That is, what's our vision for our school and what is the community's vision and how do we find that common ground."