Members of the Newton Board of Education were somber at their meeting Monday in the wake of the result of last week's mail ballot election on the USD 373 bond issue.
The patrons of USD 373 — with more than a 50 percent turnout for the election — voted down both questions asking for more than $60 million for improvements at all district schools, with a focus on Newton High School, and about $24.4 million for a new elementary building south of town.
That left the school board with one big question to reflect on this week: Where does it go from here?
"We got one thing right — the methodology and how to get as many people to vote as possible — but the community has obviously spoken, not once but twice, and this time the margin of the no was even greater. Obviously, we can't keep doing the same thing," said board president Matt Treaster. "The facilities issues haven't gone away. There's going to have to be another bond at some point.
"It's just too much money. We can't afford it with capital outlay. There's no way. It'll have to probably be the next board or maybe the board after that at some point, but somebody's going to have to deal with it down the road."
Carol Sue Stayrook, the board's vice president, said, "Our children deserve to be in a facility that works well."
Board members reflected on the work put in by multiple boards and community groups over the years to push the bond issue forward, and what could have been done differently.
Board member Jennifer Budde said one of the biggest takeaways for her was the resounding voice of the community on the issue — and how it reflected input received between the two most recent bond elections.
"The learning portion of this failure is that we cannot ignore what the community told us from the post-bond survey in 2017," Budde said. "We should've listened to what they told us."
Patrons surveyed in 2017 cited the bond cost as a major issue. Coming back with a nearly unchanged, slightly more costly bond issue and receiving a more resounding "no" vote is not something the board can afford to overlook, Budde said.
Questions were raised about how any current or future board could bring those numbers down considering inflation and the growing maintenance needs of district schools. Budde said it would be a good idea to build trust with the community through gradual measures showing fiscal responsibility.
Treaster said it is unlikely there will be any movement on a bond until those issues of trust are addressed, but board members Steve Richards and Toby Tyner were quick to point out trust is a two-way street.
USD 373 is not the only party asking for more from local taxpayers, though, an issue that board member Allen Jantz said should be addressed in however the board decides to move forward. Given competing tax increases at various levels, he suggested a meeting between all local taxing authorities to talk through the situation.
Maintenance director Chris Schaeffer was on hand to illustrate the severity of the needs at Newton High School, with 41 HVAC line items alone coming up since the start of the current school year. Whether it is the air conditioning units or the pool deck, he made it clear there are a number of items that need to be addressed.
"It's very challenging and disappointing because I really hoped that we could pass this bond and get a lot of this stuff taken care of because the needs are there," Schaeffer said.
"There are solutions out there — you just need to grapple with them and find the one that is best going to fit the situation," said superintendent Deb Hamm. "It's been a difficult process. It's been a difficult experience. Hopefully we all learn from those experiences and then can move forward."
In other business, the BOE:
• Heard a report from NHS career and technical education director Blake Smith on successes like the installation of a new robotic welder (through a partnership with Hutchinson Community College), as well as future innovations — like a potential pathway on drones or unmanned aerial vehicles.
• Approved the consent agenda, including a CTE cooperating agreement, disposal of equipment, ESSDACK interagency agreement and more.
• Voiced appreciation for the Northridge PTO's donation of a yearly subscription to Scholastic News and Studies Weekly (valued at $307.28) for the second grade.
• Discussed having a joint meeting with the city commission, Newton Rec Commission and possibly the county on Oct. 2.
• Received a request for a discussion of the naming of Lindley Hall to be placed on an upcoming agenda.