The results are in, and based on the feedback received through the recent Patron Insight survey the USD 373 Board of Education has plenty to address in moving forward with another school bond issue.

Rick Nobles, President of Patron Insight, presented to the Newton school board on Monday night on the input that was received through the surveys completed last month regarding the school bond voted in the past election. Noting the input was pursued in the most representative manner possible, the numbers painted a stark picture for the board should it take on another similar project in the future.

Starting with the grading section, Nobles pointed out that only four of the 15 district factors rated in the survey received an equivalent letter grade of a B or higher. Those factors that passed the muster in patrons' eyes were the performance of district teachers, the quality of technology available to students, quality of education and safety of students.

Other factors that did not grade out as highly were pegged as negatives in other facets of the survey — like the management of money (viewed as an overall weakness) — and among the reasons why those surveyed stated that the bond issue failed this past election. A majority cited the cost/perception of the debt load as the top reason the measure did not pass, while trust issues with the administration and school board, as well as patrons not feeling included in the bond discussion process, were also popular responses.

"Patrons are looking for much more information than they felt they had," Nobles said.

Engaging the community is something both respondents and Nobles recommended would help in a future bond issue — as the results showed the community is very informed and opinionated on issues pertaining to the district schools.

Having a community vision team in the previous bond process, board members questioned what more could be done to get feedback from citizens and make them feel like a part of the process. Nobles recommended having multiple meetings at multiple venues, being open in reporting on discussion of the bond issue and creating a community advisory board — one that gathers all perspectives in the community together.

"This is not, in any form or fashion, a cheerleading group for the district," Nobles said.

Nobles even went so far as to say the district should make sure the most vocal detractors of a bond issue are represented on that board, with Patron Insight willing to provide a full "cast of characters" who should be considered for inclusion among that group.

Making such an effort as gaining community feedback a positive and effective tool is something the board was in agreement on, though the results of the survey were worrisome in what board member Steve Richards said illustrated a disconnect between the comments and facts, while board member Jennifer Budde saw perception issues — in how issues were perceived driving the final results on the bond vote.

Communication and transparency were two items that board members kept bringing up, and something many stated would be key in any endeavor it pursues in the future.

"If we're not fundamentally communicating well with the people of the district prior to making any move, then we're going to repeat history," said board member Toby Tyner.

"We're not gonna get a bond to pass if the community in general doesn't trust us, doesn't trust the superintendent," said board member Angela Becker.

Pricing on the bond issues was also addressed, as the board looked at how to approach a more palatable bond option, but discussion kept circling back to involving the community on a greater level.

"I think that is the $64 million question in the room is how do we engage the people who feel negative, about the cost or something else, in those conversations in a way that helps us move towards a solution?" said Superintendent Deb Hamm.

No action was taken by the board, but it was agreed that communication around the issue — among patrons, among the local governing bodies and among the school board itself — would need to be a focus moving forward.

In other business, the USD 373 Board of Education:

Heard a report from Chisholm Middle School students on the Pride Time News school newscast, a weekly news production that has evolved in the second year of being offered as a PRIDE enrichment class.
Learned from third and fourth grade students at Northridge on how they are "going digital" and utilizing technology in the classroom, with board members getting hands-on with the iPads students rely on as resources.
Was updated on the Santa Fe 5/6 Center redesign project, including the coalescing vision and goals on how to best serve students in the building.
Approved the consent agenda, including annual licensing fees for Microsoft Software Products, sale/disposal of a school bus issuance of supplemental contracts for the 2017-18 school year and more.
Approved the USD 373 calendar for the 2018-19 school year.
Approved changes to the district Latchkey program, including the implementation of a $10 monthly late fee effective March 1, 2018, a 10 percent increase in enrollment fees effective at the start of the summer session, 3.43 percent pay increases for staff effective in the 2018-19 school year and the payment of any outstanding deficits (currently totaling $11,195) for the fiscal year.
Accepted a gift of $551.65 from Donor's Choose to Sunset Elementary for reading, intervention and flexible seating; $1,725 through a Fuel up to Play 60 grant from the Gen Youth Foundation to Slate Creek for a cafeteria mural and brain breaks; and two separate gifts of $500 and $1,000 from John Higgs and Budde Enterprises to Newton High School's RaileRobotics for competition expenses.
Approved the adoption of journalism resources at a cost of $2,882.46.
Approved the hiring of an additional social worker out of title funds for Santa Fe 5/6 Center.
Approved meal expenses for Kansas Teacher of the Year recipients or finalist to be approved as travel expenses.
Approved revisions to the device handbooks for Newton High School and Chisholm Middle School.
Was notified that the 2017 math standards are currently being reviewed by district staff.
Learned that Gemini II is beginning, opening up the opportunity of the redesign process for even more schools.
Received an initial draft of transportation guidelines that will be sent out with enrollment forms, which will come back to the board for approval next month.
Heard an update on ALICE training in USD 373, with Walton Rural Life Center principal Jason Chalashtari noting 85 to 90 percent of district staff have been trained in the new emphasis and the next step is training students — which will be going on this spring. Training for staff is still being held and it was noted personnel are working to make more resources available to parents to help them become knowledgable about the new strategies.
Approved an extension of Hamm's contract, moving the expiration date back to June 30, 2020.