May 21, 2024

Newton superintendent answers most-asked questions of reconfiguration proposal

Messinger provides responses before town hall Q&A

Newton Superintendent Tom Messinger speaks to attendees of a Aug. 15 town hall at Berg Middle School.

Newton Superintendent Tom Messinger provided responses to some of the most-asked questions the district has received during the first of two town hall meetings Aug. 15 at Berg Middle School. The town halls were a way for district staff to provide information to and receive feedback from community members.

Here are the questions Messinger answered before the community-led Q&A:

• What will be done with the closed buildings?

Messinger: “There have been no decisions on which buildings would be used for sure, as well as the reconfiguration of the buildings. So at this time there is also not a decision on what would be done with any building that goes unused by the district. I can tell you the one thing, which would be a high priority, we would be a good neighbor. We wouldn’t leave a building just abandoned to deteriorate and take away from the neighborhood that it sets in. That would be one of the top priorities that we would have.”

• Why choose Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Willson as the elementary school buildings that would close?

Messinger: “Keep in mind that no decision has been made. That’s been stated a couple different times tonight. But the scenarios in which it was talked about with building choices, the rationale for those choices that were up there had to do with a couple different factors. One of those is traffic flow. The TJ and Woodrow Wilson locations do have some traffic flow concerns when you add more students into those locations. That would be a little bit more difficult on those sights as well. As Rachelle (Hines of FRK Architects | Engineers) pointed out earlier, just some of the different characteristics of the property also make some sights more appealing to do additions or possible new construction on.”

• What happens if a general obligation bond is not passed?

Messinger: “One of things with this is there are two different types of bondings the school can do. One is a general obligation bond, and the other is revenue bond … We always have the ability to borrow against our SAVE dollars, or our sales tax dollars. That’s a revenue bond. That’s not a direct impact on property taxes. Now, you are somewhat limited because what you’re doing is you’re borrowing against the future income that you receive on sales tax. The other one is a general obligation bond. Not all of the different scenarios and options that were laid out require a general obligation bond. The scope of the work and the size of the project could put it into a category where you would have to have a general obligation bond. But it is possible to do work on the buildings, to be able to consolidate and seize some operational savings without going for a general obligation bond. What would determine that would be the scope of the work that the school board wishes to pursue and with what the public would support.”

• What kind of security measures will need to be installed?

Messinger: “One of the things that came up as a result of the original exploratory committee that toured the different buildings was that some of the safety features were not consistent in all of our buildings. No matter what the configuration would be, safety and security is going to be one of the priorities with all of the work on our buildings. We’re doing some work on our buildings this summer with doors and entrances, as well as security cameras. That would continue to be a focus of the district.”

• What will the start times be?

Messinger: “This was one that came up several different times. This is an impossible question to answer until we know more about the configurations of the buildings, as well as the locations of the buildings. A lot of things go in to making that decision on starting and stopping times. One of the biggest factors that plays a major role in that is transportation. So obviously depending upon where the buildings were located and what those configurations are, it’s too difficult at this point in time to say what those beginning and ending times of the school day would be.”

• How will transportation be affected by the reconfiguration?

Messigner: “One of the things that was mentioned up here in the presentation was that we would be transporting more students or making more students eligible to ride on buses. One of the reasons behind that is we do recognize there will be more students going to the school buildings. And as a result one of the things the school district could do to reduce that flow would be to have more students eligible for transportation. It’s also possible to do that potentially without affecting the number of routes significantly or as significantly as it would now because we would be having fewer buildings we’d be transporting students to. So it makes it a little bit more efficient with your existing routes.”

• How many people would we lose or which people would lose their jobs in the district?

Messinger: “It is one of those things that, as I’ve shared with multiple people in conversations over the last months, realistically we have people that leave the district each year in all different positions. Just like any business or industry does, you always have some level of turnover. It is likely that attrition could handle many, if not all, of the reductions that we would be making. But we do know that, regardless, when the ESSER dollars, or what some people referred to as the ‘COVID money’ the school district got during the pandemic, during that period of time salaries and benefits were roughly 76 percent of our general fund budget. Now that we don’t have those funds anymore, we’re back to a level where we’re comparable prior to the pandemic where we’re around 80 percent of our general fund budget is on salaries and benefits. So in terms of who would lose their job, again, the hope is attrition will take care of most of that. What we do know is that with decreased revenues coming in, and decreased enrollment of students, we will have fewer staff members in the district. That’s the way it has to be because as (business services director) Tim (Bloom) mentioned, we’re not able to overspend our spending authority, we’re not able to spend more money that we bring in. So we do know one of the end results is there would be fewer staff members in the district. But as we’ve been able to do with our reduction of section sizes at the Emerson Hough building, we reduced a section in Woodrow Wilson for next year and we reduced a section in the Thomas Jefferson Elementary for next year. Those were all handled through attrition. So people did not actually get their position reduced or lose their job as a result of that. But sometimes it does mean shifting around to a different opening.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.