Publicity campaign heats up for school bond issue

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

USD 234 Superintendent Bob Beckham said district officials are in "full-scale informational" mode regarding a proposed $40.8 million bond issue that will go in front of voters in November.

Beckham briefly discussed the proposed bond issue with USD 234 Board of Education members during their Monday meeting. In July, board members unanimously approved a measure for a public vote on the bond issue to take place during the Nov. 4 general election, and last month unanimously approved a resolution authorizing and providing for the calling of a bond election.

A bond committee formed this summer has been meeting weekly since July 31. Last month, Beckham told the board the committee plans to get "very public and factual" about the bond issue plan around the first of September.

Beckham said Monday he and board president Jordan Witt have been meeting face-to-face with community members in recent weeks to provide information and answer questions about the bond issue and that has been a "really good experience."

The "frequently asked questions" links on the USD 234 website, www.usd234.org, as well as a similar link on the website, www.securingourkidsfuture.com, which can be found on the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce website at www.fortscott.com, have been helpful in answering questions from citizens and taxpayers, Beckham said.

"They've been hitting a lot of the questions we've been asked," he said.

The securingourkidsfuture.com website continues to be developed and more photos are forthcoming, Beckham said.

USD 234 officials have also been taking information on the proposed bond issue to social media as they continue their informational campaign. Much of the campaign, which includes a Facebook page, "Our Kids Need You," "and a Twitter account to follow," Beckham said, has been focused on the needs of students in the district and how better facilities will meet those needs.

The bond option already approved by the board includes district-wide improvements such as: a high school gym addition, high school auditorium renovations, safety and security upgrades, high school stadium renovations, district-wide building exterior repairs, high school structural repairs, district classroom renovations, district energy savings and district public spaces renovations.

Beckham said in the coming months, officials plan to hand deliver color pamphlets detailing the school bond issue and "we will increase our presence at community events."

A public forum on the bond issue that included presentations by Beckham and Witt, as well as questions and comments from audience members, took place in late August. During the forum, Witt said district officials toured district buildings two years ago and found several major infrastructure problems. The school board then contracted to have a needs assessment completed in 2013.

Beckham said the plan is to conduct four additional forums between Sept. 15 and Oct. 17. The plan is to schedule one forum in each of the four school buildings. Beckham said Tuesday he did not have information on dates set for those forums.

"They (the public) will have four more chances to hear information," Beckham said.

Funding for the bond issue would be shared between the state and local taxpayers. USD 234 officials are taking advantage of 51 percent in state aid that would be available for projects, or $20.8 million, while local taxpayers' share of the bond would be $19.9 million. The state aid, which would cover annual principal and interest payments, would be applied to the school bond issue if passed by voters.

The original figure for a proposed school bond issue package was $42.2 million, which the school board approved, but that number was whittled down to $40.8 million by Hollis and Miller Architects of Overland Park, which presented three bond choices to the board in June. The new figure keeps the taxpayers' portion under $20 million.

During Monday's meeting, board member Michelle Hudiburg asked Beckham if visuals were available concerning planned improvements in the bond issue for community members who learn better through visual aids. According to architects, officials must "be careful there are no drawings that are specific, or we lose latitude to move from building to building ... it locks us in too much."

Beckham mentioned recent brochures on the bond issue that have been circulating in the community which include images of school buildings and descriptions of improvements. He also said he and Witt are available to answer questions in detail for any citizens who have questions.

"The details are hard to quantify yet," Beckham said.

"We know the type of projects and where they will be, but no (specific) details yet," Witt said.

Board vice-president Gary Billionis asked Beckham whether information from the bond committee concerning the bond issue could be filtered to members of the board who are not on the committee in order to keep them updated. Beckham said this is possible. The bond committee meets each Thursday at the board office, Beckham said.

Billionis and fellow board member Jamie Armstrong said they are "excited" about the bond issue and the opportunities it could provide for the district. Armstrong also thanked Beckham for sending electronic communications to board members and Hudiburg also said she was "pleased" to receive regular e-mails from school administrators.

Board member Justin Meeks also voiced his support for the proposed bond issue, adding the brochures put together on the issue are "awesome. They're well done and well prepared."

"I don't think the 51 percent (state aid) will be there in five years," he said. "We want to be spending taxpayers' money wisely."

Board member Michelle Parker said she is pleased with all of the sources of information available on the bond issue. Parker said she has read several "positive things" on Facebook regarding the bond issue.

Enrollment count report

During the board comments portion of the meeting, Witt said there has been a "positive start to the new school year" and he has heard several good comments from teachers and staff.

Beckham informed the board that first-day head count enrollment is up by seven students and full-time equivalency (FTE) enrollment is up by almost 19 students this year. Beckham said enrollment is "almost static" in all school buildings and "up at the high school."

"We're in really good shape," he said.

Board member Janet Braun said she is "excited about enrollment numbers going up a little and not down."

"That's a good sign," she said.

Board Policy Review Committee

Billionis, Meeks and Braun volunteered to serve with Beckham on the Board Policy Review Committee. Beckham said Tuesday attorneys with the Kansas Association of School Boards have reviewed the board's policies and have sent suggested changes to the district.

"We'll look at it as a committee, and bring it before the board for adoption," Beckham said, adding board policies have not been reviewed "for a number of years."

"We want to make sure policy is both legal and practical for us here locally," he said.

Beckham said the board will meet once a week for "no more than an hour, see how we can adopt it and make it sound."

KNEA report

Brenda Hill, KNEA representative, reported on the recent KNEA social that took place Saturday at Gunn Park. Hill said about 30-35 people attended the social. She also reported on the first meeting of the year for the Executive Council and said the meeting "went well."

Employment matters

The board conducted a 15-minute executive session to discuss personnel matters for non elected personnel and to discuss matters relating to actions adversely or favorably affecting a person as a student and invited Beckham to attend. Following the session, the board approved the following employment matters for the 2014-15 school year:

The board hired James Fox as assistant high school girls' tennis coach; Dakota Hall as a second session intramural coach at the middle school; Diana Stoughton (Eugene Ware) and Chris Sather (Winfield Scott) as building wellness coordinators; Carol Bingesser as middle school boys' basketball coach; and Joseph Allen as the SRO officer.

The board added a paraprofessional position at Winfield Scott and hired Angela Colvin to fill that position. The board also added a permanent classified substitute position and hired Brian Hall to fill that position.

Adjustment in fees schedule for the 2014-15 school year

Beckham said in July, the board approved the fee schedule for the new school year and since the middle school has an interscholastic program and has joined the SEK League, officials decided fees needed to be adjusted this year "to get in line with the rest of the league." The gate fees for athletic events at the middle school will be reduced from $2 per student and $3 per adult, to $1 per student and $2 per adult after board approval.

Addendum to 2013-14 negotiated agreement

The board approved an addendum to the 2013-14 negotiated agreement to add some supplemental salary positions recommended by the supplemental salary committee.

"It came to light in our negotiations for the 2014-15 contract, the supplemental salary committee recommended some changes to the summer conditioning program," Beckham said.

He said he had just assumed his new duties as superintendent and "came into negotiations right in the middle of the process."

"People had already started performing duties this summer recommended by the committee," he said. "To make it fair and legal to pay them, we did an addendum to the agreement, and added them for last year and pay them for the work they did this summer. And now they'll be in place as part of the 2014-15 agreement for negotiations process for next summer."

Literacy First training

Beckham provided the board with information on Literacy First training for teachers in the district. Many district teachers have already received the required five full days of training and Beckham said by next year, all teachers in the district will be trained. A "heavy emphasis" will be placed this year on vocabulary.

"They don't train groups any larger than 40 at a time," he said. "We've been training on inservice days when we don't have students."

Beckham said the Literacy First is a "framework and set of tools to provide a common language and common approach for our teachers to use district-wide." The district adopted the program last year and it has proven to be "very effective, with sound research-based strategies," he said.