For all intents and purposes, the Newton Board of Education is handcuffed at the moment when it comes to taking further action on a bond issue. With almost all of the state's bond cap for the current year used up by other districts across Kansas, there is not enough funding left for USD 373 to pursue a bond at the level needed to address all the renovations and additions that have been discussed.
The need for renovations is not in question among Newton school board members — something that also has not escaped the notice of bond counsel Steve Shogren, Senior Vice President of George K. Baum & Company. Instead of just waiting for the bond cap to reset, though, Shogren came before the Newton BOE on Monday with a different strategy for moving forward with the bond.
"July 1 is going to be a disaster. The state board is going to have to choose winners and losers and I think that could be damaging for Newton schools," Shogren said. "I think delay will increase the cost. I think delay could very well increase the interest obligation on the debt."
Shogren has been in talks with Dale Dennis, Deputy Commissioner of the Kansas State Department of Education, about the limiting effects of the bond cap. As it stands, Shogren noted it is projected there will be an application for a $175 million bond from the Blue Valley school district in the 2019-2020 school year to go with $400 million more in applications from outside Johnson County — nearly double the total amount of that the bond cap is expected to be.
If the application process plays out as expected, that would mean USD 373 would likely not be able to pursue the type of bond it is looking at for another one or two years. However, if the Newton school district were to apply now and be turned down Shogren said it could help address — and even possibly change — what is seen as "negative legislation."
"Until the Legislature and the state department of education are aware that people are being harmed with the delay in addressing the problem, we don't think anything will happen," Shogren said. "I think you'd apply now and they're going to reject it, and that's what we want. It's what needs to be done to call attention to the potential problem."
Even if the bond is rejected as expected, Shogren pointed out that any denied application may be tentatively approved for the immediately succeeding school year (2019-2020 if the BOE submits this semester) and the amount approved would be counted first towards the aggregate amount of all general obligation bonds.
Questions were raised about when an election would need to be held if Newton's application process helps effect change, with Shogren noting it would likely just need to be within the calendar year. While that raised some concerns about holding a special election to address the issue, the timing factor — and inflation — were brought up as counterpoints.
"The cost of an election would be a relatively minor thing compared to the cost of construction due to successive delays," said board member Steve Richards.
While Shogren said there are no guarantees on what this action could accomplish, the fact that a failed application could put USD 373 first in line for the 2019-2020 school year was enough to get a consensus from the Newton BOE directing administration to move forward preparing a bond resolution to put Shogren's strategy in play.
"I don't know if it'll do any good, but I think we need to try to do something proactive," Shogren said. "I think you could be a leader in your community; I think you could be a leader statewide in calling attention to this issue."
In other business, the Newton BOE:
Heard several more concerns raised by parents (including Jennifer Rose, Jessica Taylor and Elisha Blount) regarding the implementation of Summit Learning at Santa Fe 5/6 Center.
Was thanked for its service as part of school board member recognition month.
Learned of the "year of kindness" endeavor going on in Nicole Warzeka's classroom at Northridge Elementary.
Received and approved the 2017-2018 financial audit.
Approved the consent agenda, including bills, personnel reports, the disposal of instructional materials and capital outlay requests.
Approved the revisions to the student handbook emergency drill language and district job descriptions as presented.
Approved staffing recommendations — including the addition of a counselor position for the high school, social worker position at the high school and Cooper Early Education Center and teacher/administrator roles at Opportunity Academy — for the 2019-2020 school year.
Approved the termination of a tenant agreement with Newton Community Childcare Center, helping make space to facilitate the transition for Head Start to a full-day program.
Approved the gifts requests from Target to Slate Creek for playground soccer goals ($1,000), Blue Cross to Slate Creek and Northridge for the purchase of PE equipment ($1,998), Midway Motors to NHS Athletics for fan admission to the basketball games on Dec. 4 ($2,500) and Amanda Graham to Cooper for toys for developmental needs of students ($75).
Approved the Memorandum of Understanding between Prairie View Inc. and USD 373
Received information on Donor's Chose, a crowdfunding program being pursued by the district to bring uniformity to such efforts.
Was presented with the superintendent's evaluation form for review and to be submitted by Jan. 21.