USD 373 Update

Community Vision Team works to redesign bond

More stories from Ellen Garrett

The 2017 bond election failure left students and teachers with their needs unfilled. This led the district Board of Education (BOE) to work on a new bond proposal. However the date of the possible bond election is unclear. There are a few factors that play into whether or not an election will occur soon. The main factor is money.

“There is not enough money left in the budget for this school year. Unless a bond election in another district fails,” superintendent Dr. Deborah Hamm said. “For instance, in Manhattan-Ogden, there is a $122 million bond proposal that their community will vote on. If that proposal fails, then that money comes back into the pot. So instead of there being $38 million left for this school year, there would be $160 million roughly.”

It was decided by the BOE to move forward with adding an elementary school south of Highway 50 onto the ballot. This was previously a divisive issue because of possible conflicts with Walton Rural Life Center, but while added as a second option prevents issues.

“There will be two questions on the ballot. One will be about all the problems that have been brought up and one will be for a new school south of Highway 50,” Hamm said.


The initial step in the journey toward the new bond was the formation of a Community Vision Team (CVT). First, the board asked several institutions and groups to recommend people for the CVT. These groups included the City of Newton, Chamber of Commerce and Newton Education Association (NEA). The Board of Education appointed four people and the district appointed two people to represent them.

“Once those people were determined then the board decided that they would go ahead and meet with the CVT so they would both know what the CVT was thinking and also be a part of the conversation in that group,” Hamm said.

Orchestra teacher Joey Menninga was one of the people recommended to be a part of the CVT by the NEA. The BOE accepted the recommendation and Menninga accepted the position.
“I was willing to be on it because I live here in Newton, my kids go to school in the district and I am excited to have an opportunity to have a voice in what happens, what ideas get presented and especially speaking to the fine arts portion. I can make sure that [the department] is seen,” Menninga said. “It has been a really good experience to be a part of the CVT and to be able to interact with other members of the community that I may not usually talk with. It is a good balance of people and hopefully we are able to come up with a good option for the district.”

The CVT and board have created a list of priorities for the bond. Hamm said that these are mainly focused on the part of the building built in the ‘70s. The priorities are building a new science wing, tornado shelter and changing the fine arts department. The CVT and board have also listed overcrowding in the middle and elementary schools and the heating and air conditioning units as things they will propose to fix.


The proposal of a new science wing and its place on the priority list is something that teachers have been encouraging in the past years. Chemistry teacher Duane Knoll has outlined to the CVT, students and fellow teachers fundamental issues that exist in his classroom.

“Our classrooms are too small and are not designed for lab work. When the students are too close then it is hard as a teacher to get from station to station to see what is going on,” Knoll said. “There is a lack of ability to monitor students. The science standards have changed and they are more project-based, but we do not have a place to store or do those kinds of things. We do not even have enough room to store the supplies we have.”

The way that the department is currently spread out in the high school creates issues because teachers from different classes have no room to bring their students together to allow collaboration between classes. Knoll and biology teacher Jerry Epp both agree that a new science wing is the best way to solve issues regarding collaboration.

There are also issues with the physical infrastructure of the lab areas. The electrical and plumbing systems are not up-to-date and cause problems during labs.

“We do not have enough amps to run all of the equipment that we need to run. The lab stations are not set up with individual plumbing,” Epp said. “In my room there are just a couple sinks on the side, it gets really crowded.”

With all of these needs in mind, the CVT and Epp agree that a new science wing is the best option.

“If we want to design a science facility that has all the needs that we currently have, in terms of space, updated infrastructure, this is the best way to go,” Epp said.


Despite past advocating from fine arts teachers, the department has had minimal updates since the high school was originally built.

“We have had minor things done, like the band got new lockers last year because the old ones were falling apart,” Menninga said. “The doors were not staying on the lockers. I know they replaced the old carpet with tile seven or eight years ago. It is because the old carpet was moldy and gross and unhealthy. Other than that, the fine arts department, including the art classrooms have not been updated.”

The most pressing issue for fine arts is the auditorium. Despite a growing population both in the city and fine arts department, the auditorium has had no updates since it was built over 40 years ago.

“Our auditorium is not large enough to hold the number of audience members that we have at our concerts. We need a larger auditorium space. Not just new seats or lighting,” Menninga said.
In the department, issues have arisen with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This act dictates that public places, including public high schools, have to meet certain standards so that they are accessible to people with disabilities. Our current auditorium and music classrooms do not meet those standards.

“In the auditorium there is no seating for people who have a wheelchair. The slope of the ramp is too steep so they cannot sit there and there is no other designated space. Also our band room and choir room with the way the levels are, people who cannot get up and down stairs are limited to the top edge of the room,” Menninga said.