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School district gaining momentum in the sale of former Maytag home

The method of sale for the former Maytag home/District Office building, discussions on technology and the possible implementation of purchase cards were the primary focus during Monday’s meeting for Newton Community School District Board of Education.

All three of the items took place under the Learning, Leadership, and District Business portion of the meeting, with the sale of the former Maytag home taking precedent.

The property located at 807 S. Sixth Ave. W. is currently valued at $167,357 by the real estate website, and the board voted for several actions regarding the sale of the property.

The board first had to approve the RFP agreement drawn up by Ahler’s & Cooney law firm of Des Moines in order to set up a timeline of other actions for the property. In the RFP agreement, the district states that any interested bidder must submit bids to the current district offices at the Emerson Hough facility no later than noon Monday, July 15.

The district also states in the RFP that the house will be sold as is and the board has the right to request additional information to evaluate any offers received.

At the suggestion of board member Sherri Benson, the board also will have an open house for the property on Saturday, July 13, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“It should be open to the public,” Benson said. “That way people can see that we are being transparent with this and see the condition of the house.”

The property has already attracted one potential bidder in Thombert, Inc. CEO Walt Smith. Smith will be shown the property today at 6 p.m. and has invited residents of the neighborhood to attend the showing, so that he can have their input and showcase his plans for the property were he to purchase it.

Board Secretary/District Business Manager Gayle Isaac laid out the timeline for the process of selling the property.

• June 27 the district will place a formal ad in the Newton Daily News announcing the RFP and the bidding process.

• July 15 at noon will be the last day to place bids.

• July 22 Board Secretary Gayle Isaac will present the bids to the board and present a resolution for setting a public hearing for Aug. 12.

• If approved, on Aug. 12 the board will hold a public hearing and take a vote on which bid to accept, if there is a successful bid.

If a bid is accepted, the district would then contract Alher’s & Cooney law firm to draw up the proper documentation.

During the discussion regarding the US Bank purchase cards, board member Don Poynter abstained himself from voting due to a conflict of interest. Poynter is currently employed by US Bank; however, he did provide input to the other members of the board about the cards.

“There are lots of security advantages with purchase cards that other credit cards can’t offer,” Poynter said.

Isaac, who presented the item to the board, cited several reasons the board should consider purchase cards. He stated that in the past, the district had two credit cards and both cards are issued to employees who are leaving the district. Outgoing Superintendent Steve McDermott and retiring Transportation Supervisor Kris Simbro are the district’s current card holders.

“Since we already have a US Bank relationship, it’s a smooth transition and we don’t have to jump through a lot of hoops,” Isaac said on why he suggested US Bank.

Isaac also stated that the purchase cards would allow the district more financial control. He said they would be able to control the minimum and maximum amounts allowable on the card and that, unlike credit cards, these cards wouldn’t have to be issued to individuals.

Another selling point Isaac brought up was that the district could earn back cash with rebates from purchases, which was something that Poynter backed him on.

The motion was passed and Isaac said that the initial rollout would be slow and if it works out, it would spread to more departments within the district.

Technology was the other heavily discussed issue on the agenda.

“I think the website needs to be used as a strong marketing tool to attract families and show them how good we are as a district,” board member Donna Cook said.

Cook said that she has been pushing for an update to the district’s website for years.

“This has been an item on the superintendent’s job evaluation for awhile,” Cook said. “I feel some urgency to get moving on this.”

Cook said that she had contacted a contractor about redesigning and managing the district’s website privately and suggested that the board consider outside help in managing the site.

This suggestion caused a healthy back and forth between nearly every board member present.

“My concern would be flow of information,” board president Andy Elbert said.

“When you hire someone to do that, you are restricted to one software solution and one uploading source,” board member Nat Clark said.

Poynter was also very opposed to the hiring of a contractor for the website and Benson cited reasons the district should consider contracting the site.

At the end of the discussion it was suggested that Clark bring in information on different website building software suites and that it be placed on the agenda again for the July 8 meeting.

In other technology-related matters, the district approved the new Digital Learning Agreement and Acceptable Use Policy. Newton Senior High School Principal Bill Peters presented the item to the board.

The changes to the policy were implemented in anticipation of the iPads high school students will receive in the fall.

“There is great potential with these and there is potential for a great pitfall,” Peters said.

Peters let the board know that all students and their parents will have to sign an agreement to receive an iPad. The agreement discusses how the iPad is district property, that the students’ device will be under constant monitoring, and that any violation will result in a loss of privileges. Parents who sign the agreement also agree to take financial responsibility if any damage occurs to the device

Benson asked what would happen if parents didn’t accept the agreement?

“We still have plenty of room for paper and pencil,” Peters replied.

Peters also noted that students would still be able to use a loaner iPad at school, but just wouldn’t be allowed to take them home.

Benson and Cook also spurred a discussion on the district’s spending in regards to technology. For the second meeting in a row, Cook was the only board member to vote against approval of the bills.

“I feel like we are spending a lot of money on technology and it’s wonderful, but what is our overall plan?” Benson said.

“There has to be an umbrella technology plan for the district,” Cook said. “The board has to be accountable for these dollars spent. We need to know when and where these dollars are spent.”

Most of the board seemed to agree with those sentiments.

“We need an overall plan and objectives, if we are going to be using our resources, Poynter said. “We need a firmer plan.”

In other business:

• The board postponed the vote on the Woodrow Wilson and Berg Elementary School 2013-2014 student handbooks, due to Thomas Jefferson and Aurora Heights not having their handbooks available for voting.

• Berg Middle School received approval for its 2013-2014 student handbook. BMS principal Scott Bauer presented the item to the board and said the biggest changes were changing the name of study hall to “Cardinal Time” and adding the district-wide policy on the new surveillance cameras.

• Peters also received approval for NHS 2013-2014 student handbook.  Some of the additions will be the adding of two new activity awards, an iPad policy, and the school announcing it will not investigate the retrieval of lost or stolen privately owned electronic devices.

• Peters also wanted some changes published for kids who dually enroll with a secondary school. If a student fails a course or fails to drop a course before the deadline, the student will bear the financial burden. In addition, students attending DMAAC and DMAAC Career Academy classes will have those grades count toward their overall GPA.

• The biggest change for the Basics & Beyond Alternative High School 2013-2014 student handbook will be a more restrictive dress code on shorts. Shorts must fall below mid-thigh to the knee and “short shorts” are banned.

• The district voted to change the district calendar for the 2013-14 school year. The change won’t affect students, but will alter professional development days for teachers.

• Board Policy 702.11, regarding surveillance cameras, passed its first reading.

• The board set a meeting of July 29 to meet with Gaylord Tryon & Associates. Tryon’s firm found incoming Superintendent Bob Callaghan. Callaghan also made an unannounced appearance at Monday’s meeting to introduce his family to the board. He mentioned that his family had found a home in Newton and were settling in. Callaghan’s first day on the job is July 1.

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at

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