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    USD 257 officials and patrons met Monday evening to plan the launch of a school bond campaign to ask voters for construction of a new elementary school with options for the high school and middle school. Pictured from left, Ryan Sparks, co-chairman of the campaign’s executive committee; Dan Willis, school board president; Becky Nilges, a member of the executive committee; and Savannah Flory, co-chairman of the executive committee.
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    Among attendees at a school bond campaign kickoff meeting Monday were, front from left, Jenna Higginbotham, Terri Carlin and Lori Cooper.

School campaign takes shape

The Iola Register

The countdown to an April 2 school bond election has begun, but there’s still plenty of time to get involved.

About 30 USD 257 patrons gathered Monday evening to start a 12-week process to educate, promote and support efforts to build a new elementary school in Iola, with options for a new science building at the high school and a new HVAC system at the middle school.

Members addressed head on some of the most frequent questions they’ve already received from community members, such as:

— What will the new school look like? Project leaders from SJCF Architecture said they typically don’t provide concept drawings because it can confuse voters, but after discussing the matter with attendees they’ll work up an example of what the school potentially could look like. Iola voters prefer a visual representation, local leaders said, but they’ll need to be clear the final version may look somewhat different.

Are you sure you can get the land for the site, and won’t the landowners raise their prices if the bond passes? USD 257 board president Dan Willis said the district is likely to secure an option to buy with all four landowners in the next month or so.

When will you know how much it costs to remediate contamination on the property? Landowners have given the district permission to drill for core samples; once that’s done, it should take about 60 days for results. Voters should know that information before they go to the polls.

How will a new school provide a better education? That question can best be answered by local residents and representatives from other school districts that built a new school, attendees decided. As the campaign continues, they’ll let friends and neighbors talk about ways a new school can help children and the community. The Register plans to sponsor an educational forum, perhaps in early March, to address those types of questions.


THE VOTE is just 12 weeks away. That may seem like a long time, said Shannon Ferguson-Bohm, SJCF president, but there’s plenty of work to get done by then. She recommended committee members spend the next six weeks in a planning phase, then launch a public campaign the last six weeks.

It’s important to take the time to plan things like voter registration campaigns, raise money to purchase educational material and advertising, and come up with a strategy to educate voters and promote the campaign, she said. If you heavily promote the issue too early, voters can tire of the issue by the time April 2 rolls around.

“Then you’ll want to really hit it hard that last six weeks,” she said.

Each committee will need about eight to 10 members. Committees included Voter Registration, Communications, Publicity and Finance. Some committees, like Communications, quickly attracted the minimum number of volunteers. Some spots remain available.

The Voter Registration committee also will need numerous volunteers willing to go door-to-door and talk to voters later in the campaign, Ferguson-Bohm suggested.

An Executive Committee, made mostly of co-chairs from each committee and four at-large positions, will guide and organize the process. Ryan Sparks and Savannah Flory will lead that committee.

The Finance committee likely will need to raise about $10,000, written to the district’s endowment foundation, but the money can’t come from the school district.

School representatives and staff, including teachers and others involved with the district, cannot advocate for the school bond, Ferguson-Bohm warned. But they can talk about the issue in the interest of educating voters.

Committees likely will meet about every other week, and possibly on a weekly basis as the campaign ramps up.

Other committee leaders include:

Voter Registration: Co-chairs are Jon Wells and Travis Hermstein.

Communications: Co-chairs are Carla Nemecek and Morgan Dieker.

Publicity: Co-chairs are Jenna Higginbotham and Lori Cooper.

Finance: Co-chairs are Chuck Apt and Ray Maloney.

Anyone interested in being part of a committee can call Ryan Sparks at 620-757-0901 or Samantha Flory at 620-496-5467.

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