Roughly 150 people packed the lunchroom at Berg Elementary for the Newton Community School District Board of Education meeting Monday, many once again voicing concerns about the board’s decision to close Emerson Hough.
For more than an hour, citizens addressed the board during the public forum portion of the meeting, some calling for the board to reconsider its previous action.
“There’s still time to reverse a really bad decision,” said Andrew Stone.
Newton man Scott Hauschildt, who is wheelchair-bound, addressed the board regarding accessibility issues at Woodrow Wilson. Hauschildt recently visited the elementary and said the school reminded him of the multi-level high school he attended in Greenfield. Hauschildt struggled to access some areas of that school.
“It was four years of going to a building that spoke to me and said, ‘you don’t belong here,’” he said. “It felt that way at Woodrow Wilson.”
Hauschildt has twin sons on the way, and he wondered if they were to attend Woodrow when they reach school-age if he would have easy access to all areas in that facility during visits.
“A school should be an environment that welcomes everyone at all times,” he said.
Some speakers asked the board to outline the criteria they used in making the school closure decision. Sandy Kelly wondered if the buildings had been inspected prior to the decision.
“I don’t understand, as a taxpayer, if you didn’t have the building inspected what you used to make the decision,” she said.
Supporters of a movement to save Emerson Hough presented the board with an 870-signatures petition to reconsider the closure.
Following the public forum, the board got down to business of determining elementary boundary lines for next fall.
School Superintendent Steve McDermott formally presented the proposed boundary to the board — the same line released late last week. That boundary would divide the district into east and west halves. The line runs south down East Eighth Street North to First Avenue. Then west to East Fifth Street South and continues to the southern end of the district. Students living on the west side of the boundary would attend Thomas Jefferson for Kindergarten through Third Grade and Woodrow Wilson for fourth through sixth grades. Those living on the east side of the boundary would attend Berg Elementary for Kindergarten through third grade and Aurora Heights for fourth through sixth grades.
McDermott outlined the process for selecting the boundary line.
“We’re looking at number of students that live in a neighborhood,” he said.
The boundary lines were chosen with the intent of best balancing out the district. And as the population moves over time, the boundary line could be shifted. McDermott also noted that the district would continue to consider transfers for students wanting to attend a school in the other area.
Board member Darrin Hamilton asked if the boundary line would need to be changed if the school board ultimately decided to change which school was closed.
“It’ll function either way,” McDermott said. “It’ll work.”
The school board approved the boundary line unanimously and it will take effect for school next fall.
The school board also discussed how to handle the vacant school board seat left open by the resignation of Sheri Benson.
Hamilton favored allowing the open seat to be filled by special election, but other school board members questioned whether that was allowed by state code.
“I think we have to appoint or attempt to appoint as a board,” Donna Cook said.
Under Iowa law, the board is required to appoint someone by April 30 or a special election will have to take place.
The board voted 5-1 to pursue appointment. Interested candidates will be able to get applications once they are made available from the district’s Web site, www.newton.k12.ia.us, or can call the district office at 792-5807 for more information. Applications are due to the district’s office, 807 S. Sixth Ave. W., by 4:30 p.m. Monday. The League of Women Voters will host a candidate forum on Tuesday following the deadline and the school board would need to appoint a new member during its next meeting on April 26 to stay ahead of the deadline.
The school board approved the budget for the upcoming year, including a $16.66 levy, which represents a 10 cent increase from this current year’s rate of $16.56 per $1,000 of assessed value. Combined with the increased residential rollback and the state equalization order, the owner of an $85,000 Newton home — now assessed at $90,100 — would see an increase of about $62 on the school portion of their property taxes.
Andy Karr can be contacted at 792-3121 ext. 434 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.