Following a new wrinkle in the bond discussion for USD 373 presented at the last Newton Board of Education meeting, the school board reconvened on Monday with the intent of passing a resolution to officially set bond action into motion.
As bond advisor Steve Shogren, Senior Vice President of George K. Baum & Company, pointed out at the board's last meeting, there is a push across the state to try and change legislation that currently sets the bond cap — and a bond resolution being approved by a district and then rejected by the State Board of Education (due to the lack of remaining allotted funds) could potentially impact the current status quo. Additionally, Shogren stated that even if USD 373's bond resolution is not approved for this year due to bond cap restraints, there is a clause in the current legislation that would give that resolution priority in the following school year (2019-2020).
Given that information, the Newton BOE was advised to keep pushing forward with the current bond project. In light of that, architects from Gravity Works and DLR Group were back before the school board on Monday trying to set the final scope of the bond in order for the BOE to officially pass a resolution.
With a $60 million threshold being tossed out in earlier discussion, the architects proposed a few final adjustments (taking inflation into consideration, if the project is indeed delayed a year) for work to be included in the bond project. Namely, the cost saving measures pitched to the school board included adding in more self-performed deferred maintenance at the school buildings by district maintenance staff, reductions to the remodeling of area one at Newton High School (i.e. foreign language classrooms) where newer work has already been completed, modifications to the scope of improvements to the high school kitchens and commons areas and taking 2,600 sq. ft for the new science wing and absorbing it into the existing building. The latter two items, however, drew some discussion from the board.
"I appreciate the work on trying to get the bond below $60 million dollars. Personally the only thing I would back out of, as far as keeping in, is the science wing addition. That's the one thing I would add back in," said board member Allen Jantz.
"Personally, I do like the larger science area because I do want to honor our commitment to fine arts as much as we're able to," said board vice president Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs.
Additionally, concerns were raised about the limitations of the currently tiered kitchen and commons area. With staff seeing the leveling out as a benefit — and other work on both areas remaining in the bond — multiple board members were also on board with taking care of all of those improvements at the same time.
Cost may be a crucial factor in the community's ultimate decision on the bond, but at the same time board members noted the importance of painting the significance of these improvements.
"This is a huge investment for our community. It's not a used car, so let's show our community that we value these things," said board member Jennifer Budde.
Projections from the proposed cuts would drop the bond cost to just under $60 million, while keeping the science wing and full commons/kitchen area enhancements would bump that back up by about $1.5 million.
Ultimately, Shogren said keeping in that additional $1.5 million in renovations would not affect the total mill levy all that much.
Questions were raised about the proposed wrap-around structure of the bond as well and the potential to add to interest costs — but Shogren noted that is done to keep the total costs to taxpayers down (as other structures would jump the mill levy by four or five more mills). Those questions were brought up because of the potential overlap in bond payments, but Superintendent Deb Hamm noted the current bond question is being structured so as to have the district's needs be met through the entirety of the payment process.
"The goal would be to pay off this debt in 20 years and then the district be able to make other decisions about the schools at that point," Hamm said.
Seeing the benefits of the suggested strategy (potentially being a win-win whether USD 373's proposal is rejected or accepted), the Newton BOE unanimously voted to approve Resolution 01-28-19 authorizing and calling for a bond election in USD 373 for two questions on the issuance of general obligation bonds, as modified per discussion — including a nearly $61 million bond for enhancements to all district schools and a second proposition of a $24.4 million bond for a potential new elementary building. Hamm noted plans are to possibly turn the district's application into the State Board of Education by the end of the week.
In other business, the Newton BOE:
Heard both complaints and support from district patrons for Summit Learning during a period of public comment.
Thanked board member Angela Becker for her service as part of School Board Recognition Month.
Approved the consent agenda, including the personnel report, amended budget for publication, disposal of equipment and Microsoft renewal.
Approved the guidelines for the district use of DonorsChoose.org (a crowd-funding website).
Discussed the implementation of Summit Learning in USD 373 schools and heard testimony from administration and staff in favor of the learning model and how it's being implemented, as well as addressing some areas that need some work.
Approved gift requests as presented, including $500 from South Central Kansas Library System to Slate Creek Elementary to support the media center's role in the redesign project, $3,000 from Cottonwood Pediatrics/Jon Jantz to NHS RaileRobotics, $500 from Jimmy and Susan Wickiser to NHS RaileRobotics and $175.52 from Gilbert and Jill Montano to Northridge Elementary for a mini-fridge.
Received a preliminary draft of the 2019-2020 attendance calendar.