After setting a date (Sept. 3, 2019) to vote on the bond issue last month, the Newton Board of Education was left to decide what shape that election would take — whether it be a traditional election with polling sites or a mail ballot election — at its most recent meeting Monday.

Questions from the BOE surrounded what type of election would draw more voters, which Harvey County Clerk Rick Piepho answered emphatically.

"Mail ballots are going to get you the biggest turnout," Piepho said.

Historically in Harvey County, Piepho noted mail ballot elections draw a 50 percent voter turnout, while traditional elections fall somewhere closer to between 20 and 30 percent. There were some questions about timing, too, following the requested 120-day notice of a mail ballot election. While USD 373 won't officially have its bond application approved until July 1, Piepho said 60 days is the absolute minimum he would need to prepare for such an election. July 3 would be the start of the 60-day window, but Piepho also stated it would be preferred to have the ballot language by June 1.

Ballots would then be required to go out to registered voters 30 days before the election date, though Piepho did state there are some regulations that require him to send out certain ballots sooner.

"There's a federal requirement that I start sending ballots to overseas military people 45 days before the election. That's the hard part, their 45-day period," Piepho said.

Overall, though, Piepho said mail ballot elections are easier because the staff at the clerk's office handles all of the work (without having to secure additional workers for each poll site).

Also, according to a document prepared by the clerk's office in January, it was noted the costs would be pretty similar — with a traditional special election costing between $14,225 and $16,400 and a mail ballot election totaling an estimated $18,000.

"The cost to me is pretty negligible in the grand scheme of the bond," said board member Jennifer Budde.

Voting unanimously (7-0), the Newton BOE approved the use of mail ballot for the Sept. 3 special election on the bond issue.

Following the election decision, bond architects Kevin Greischar and Vince Haines of DLR Group and Gravity Works discussed the bond campaign with the board. That included plans for the dissemination of information on the bond issue — which contains two questions asking for $61.3 million for remodeling at Newton High School and security and HVAC upgrades at the middle and elementary schools as well as a possible $24.4 million bond for a new elementary school on the southern part of Newton — over the next several months.

Board members were very interested in getting involved and questioned how they could do that, and just how involved they could be without creating a conflict of interest. In that regard, both Greischar and Haines stated BOE members would be in the clear as long as they spread the word as an individual citizen (e.g. not campaigning on school ground, using district property, etc.).

Asked about what could be done differently from the last bond campaign, the architects noted the actions of Monday night were a good start and said it would be good to present a unified and multi-faced approach in upcoming information sharing sessions as well.

"The 7-0 vote is a great start for where you're headed," Greischar said.

"(Superintendent) Dr. (Deb) Hamm's got an excellent story to tell on the educational merits of what we're doing ... but she can't be the only one giving the message," Haines said. "I think that's another difference from last time, just make sure that there's more than one messenger."

In other business, the Newton BOE:


Heard numerous public concerns over proposed changes to the Newton High School honors recognition system.
Recognized Excel Industries, Koerner Heights Church and Trinity Heights United Methodist Church as Friends of Education for their efforts supporting Newton schools.
Was informed of a year-long project on the prairie ecosystem and native plants from Walton Rural Life Center students that ties into the school's annual Ag Fair — where the students will be having a native plant sale.
Received an update on year one of the NHS Ag Academy — including the lessons being taught and how those are tied back to agriculture, field trips made to varying ag-based businesses (e.g. Cargill, MoRidge/Grasshopper, etc.) and events promoting agriculture (like the sale of pork chops after home football games).
Learned of the work being done by Principal Tyler Swalley to prepare for the launch of the Opportunity Academy, an alternative school program on the Ember Hope campus, next school year.
Approved the consent agenda.
Approved the Slate Creek Elementary Redesign launch plan.
Learned that the Kansas State Department of Education has approved the Chisholm Middle School Redesign launch plan.
Approved implementation of the Life of a Railer Code of Conduct for the 2019-2020 school year.
Approved gifts and donations including $12,000 from the Gene Haas Foundation for the NHS machining program to help with credentialing, a Honda Accord ($2,000 value) from Jackie and Scott Nelson for the NHS auto program and donations from Bank of the West ($50), Newton Lions Club ($100) and First Bank of Newton ($100) for a Chisholm Middle School field trip.
Tabled an item on contract extensions for USD 373 building administration to the June meeting.
Approved advertisement for two new district positions, a transportation mechanic and school nurse.
Approved the purchase of furniture for the Opportunity Academy.
Tabled a discussion of a report from the Kansas Education System Accreditation Outside Visitation Team.
Received information for review on the 2019-2020 handbooks for transportation, Santa Fe 5/6 Center and Cooper Early Education Center.