While not a new issue for the Newton school district, a concern that comes up annually was rehashed at the USD 373 Board of Education meeting Monday night as board members and district staff discussed the capital outlay budget for the 2019-2020 school year — and beyond.
Looking at the figures for the current school year has become a bit of a talking point, given the upcoming bond election, something board member Toby Tyner pointed out while talking about the overall capital outlay budget and confirming — as listed — that there were nearly $3.6 million in requests that went unfunded, with the district able to fund just shy of $1.3 million in capital outlay projects for 2019-2020.
"There are needs that we're not able to fund and we're spending a little more than double what we were on capital outlay seven years ago, so we've increased that and we still have needs that are going unfunded," Tyner said.
Deb Hamm, USD 373 superintendent, confirmed those figures as well as the limitations on uses for capital outlay funds — which are intended to be used on the improvement/upkeep of district buildings. There are a couple of major items (the chiller for the high school and Walton Rural Life Center improvements) that will take a dedicated amount of capital outlay funds in the coming school year, but she also said the district is looking at a new model to better meet funding requests in the future.
Previously, Hamm said the district relied on a model that advocated for a certain dollar amount being dedicated to each building based on student population. Moving away from that, both Maintenance Director Chris Schaeffer and Director of Transportation Sheila Zwahlen have been working on five-year plans to phase in potential capital outlay projects across USD 373, which they reviewed with the school board on Monday.
Schaeffer noted that making a rotation for repairs to district buildings makes the most sense, as some of those items — like replacing roofs — can come with a hefty price tag if all done at once. Schaeffer noted he would take a similar tack with projects like parking lot resurfacing to spread out those costs and still be able to keep facilities in good shape.
"Most of what I'm doing here in this plan is not necessarily earth-shattering," Schaeffer said.
Additionally, the replacement of aging equipment was included in Schaeffer's five-year maintenance plan. That includes a hefty chunk of items at the high school that will be needed regardless of whether the bond passes — ranging from a new pool deck to an old boiler originally installed in 1973.
"Like most of the stuff that we've included on the bond at the high school, it's just aging out," Schaeffer said. "The bond is a must. For us to keep the buildings in a good, viable condition, we have to have an influx of money or it's going to be a very hard struggle to keep them going at this rate. We've had the luxury of time and time's running low on us."
Based on Schaeffer's five-year plan, there are at least $500,000 in repairs he hopes to phase in over the next four years, but he pointed out that some of those projects could be covered by the bond issue. Additionally, the board heard that funds recently made available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could help with some of the storm shelter improvements planned in the district. Hamm noted that would then allow the district to reduce the overall bond indebtedness or utilize those funds for other safety and security measures.
On top of the maintenance plan, transportation is working on a similar change — with Zwahlen first presenting the board with a list of district vehicles and noting an intent to purchase one car, one van and two buses each year to help keep the district fleet up and running.
Due to use and age, Zwahlen pointed out that there are three buses that will need to be replaced within the next two years. Given her already strong efforts to secure grant funds to assist with such purchases, staff are optimistic the new plan will only help in terms of staying on top of vehicle needs.
"I'm excited that we're going to put together a five-year plan so that we know what is the next vehicle to be rotated out and what is the next vehicle to be rotated in," Hamm said.
Members of the school board, like Tyner, agreed that the new plan provided "really valuable information for us to have on an annual basis."
In other business, the Newton BOE:
Approved the consent agenda.
Approved the administrator and Opportunity Academy handbooks for 2019-2020.
Approved the professional learning five-year plan for USD 373 as presented.
Approved the district building school improvement plans as presented.
Reviewed a safety and security audit that helped inform some of the measures included in the current bond.
Reviewed a Kansas Education System Accreditation Outside Visitation Team (OVT) report.
Heard a request for Agribusiness to be considered an acceptable substitute for Financial Management and Economics as part of the graduation requirements for Ag Academy students.
Reviewed the 2019-2020 Opportunity Academy handbooks, which it was noted was very similar to that of Newton High School (with some unique pieces).