USD 411 opts for bond assistance

Staff writer

If a new teacher introduction, technology class innovations, and a positive budget review were not enough to energize the USD 411 Board of Education on Sept. 10 for the coming year, the introduction and presentation of school bond and building specialist Jim Cain got board members, particularly superintendent John Fast, going.

After hearing an expected “numbers-as-usual” financial report from Goessel board treasurer Chet Roberts and a positive budget audit review from Dale Clark of Knudsen, Monroe, and Company, Fast noted the school’s current bond issue would be retired in 2015.

In light of changes coming to the state legislature, including the addition of seven conservative candidates sure to back Gov. Sam Brownback’s desire to cut state aid for school financing, Fast said it was imperative for board members to consider a bond project for facility needs.

“When thinking about some other things we might need, maybe we ought not wait until the new legislature is seated to get started,” Fast said. “State aid might be removed for bond projects and that will be taking away from us a large amount of money for improvements.”

The Goessel district is 35 percent funded by state aid. Removal of this income for the district could amount to a yearly loss of over $350,000.

Fast and Board of Education President Dan Miller outlined several potential bond projects the district might want to consider in the near future. Those projects included a storm shelter for the elementary school, improvements in facilities and space for the agriculture and vocational-technology classes, and building upgrades in the northwest science pods of the high school.

“Our current storm facilities are just inadequate at the elementary school,” Fast said. “I walked through the schools at Greensburg and Chapman after those tornadoes there. It is just very scary to think about what could happen here, where we do not have solid concrete walls, if we were in that situation. We had a tornado here within a mile last year. We were very lucky.”

Miller said needs for bond project improvements were very evident at the high school in the science and vocational agriculture classrooms.

“That northwest section of our building is going to continue to deteriorate in the next five years,” he said. “Our science labs, our FACS labs and our vo-ag space, those all need attention.”

Prior to the board meeting, Fast and Miller met with Cain, after Fast sought referrals from other small schools with building projects and bond issue needs.

“His name came up with other schools who have worked with him to evaluate needs,” Fast said. “I have not found anyone with a stronger resume of working with districts and communities. He is a successful person who takes time to listen to what we have to say.”

Cain told board members that as a bond and building specialist, he could help the district plan, negotiate, and inform the community as well as oversee the different phases of building.

“I once owned a construction company and during those 15 years I learned how to get 140 percent out of any dollar we had,” Cain said. “I am very successful at finding unique ways to fund building projects.”

Cain said he liked to work with small school districts, and has helped with jobs in southwest Kansas, northeast Kansas, and a little pocket in central Kansas, including Moundridge, Herington, Minneapolis, and most recently Canton-Galva.

“I’ve helped between 25-30 school districts,” Cain said. “We’ve passed a bond issue in 100 percent of the districts, and I’ve learned very much how to read a community, to know when they ready to pass a bond issue election or not.”

Board members discussed Cain’s qualifications and offer for bond issue help, then decided to invite him to take part in developing proceedings

“These are extremely important topics we are talking about,” Fast said. “These things will take a lot of time and effort on all our parts, but it is vitally important as it will set direction for the next 20 years of our district.”

Cain said the concern about losing state aid was very real, but if the community passed a bond project before July 1, the state could not take aid for that project away.

Miller said school building improvements would have to be a community project.

“It’s not my choice, not our choice, but what we do has to be what the community wants to support,” Miller said. “We have to get the right message out and get everyone on board.”

Fast said conversation would need to expand from board members to staff, to students, then parents, community groups, and businesses.

Cain agreed to apply his knowledge and resources as the board began to engage at length into discerning the priority needs for the district.

New class

Applying knowledge and engaging resources was the focus of two interactive media class students, Georgia Thiesen and Emily Brannon, who attended the board meeting to present their ideas and a request for funding.

Taught by Tyler Schroeder, the new class allows students to find ways to engage their fellow students and community in better communication practices.

“We preformed an analysis of the school and found a weakness in communication between students, teachers, community, and groups of classes,” Thiesen, a senior, said. “To fix this we came up with the idea of PIE (promote, inform, and educate).”

Junior Emily Brannon told board members the class envisioned creating a 5 to 10 minute program to be shared twice weekly via television in the lunchroom, to inform listeners of current events and school news.

“We could have teacher-student bios, jokes with Mark, weather for the upcoming week, notices about events, dances, class competitions, sports talk that could include where games are for the week, birthdays, a technology tip of the day, current events, and even video updates from past foreign exchange students,” Brannon said.

Thiesen presented a request for funds to investigate options for purchasing a large-screen television to be installed in the high school lunchroom for the PIE project.

Board members affirmed the class members’ work and advised them to continue working on specific funding requests.

New teacher

After an introductory presentation, the board affirmed new teacher Brittany Hiebert in her position as junior high language arts teacher, 6th grade science teacher, junior high girls’ basketball coach, junior class sponsor, and student improvement team member.

“We welcome you back, welcome you home,” Miller said. “We are very glad to have you here.”

Hiebert, formerly Brittany Dirksen, grew up in the Goessel community, attended Goessel schools, graduated from Bethel College, and student taught in Chicago, Ill. She recently married Goessel High School football coach Garrett Hiebert.

Retiring clerk

The board recognized clerk Patsy Schmidt for her many years of service to the district. This was her final board meeting. Joni Smith has filled her position.

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