USD 109 board wrestles four hours on what scope of project to recommend to patrons
By Fred Arnold – Telescope publisher
Republic County Superintendent Mike Couch openly said he was hoping for a 7-0 consensus among board members at Thursday night’s special meeting. After nearly four hours of discussion what he got was a 5-2 vote.
“I can live with that,” he said. “What this shows is that each of you feel very strongly about trying to do what is best for the kids, the district and the taxpayers. What we got done tonight was a very positive step.”
What ‘got done’ was a decision to conduct a special bond election on February 20, 2018. The ballot for the bond election will be a two part question. The exact details have not been worked out, but will tentatively ask voters:
- Would they vote in favor of a base project bond with an estimated cost of $11.7 million?
- Would they vote in favor of the base project bond with the addition of a multi purpose wing at the Republic County Jr./Sr. High School with an additional cost of $3.56 million? That addition would include a storm shelter, practice gym for wrestling and auxiliary classrooms.
The base project will include classrooms, office, storm shelter, upgraded electrical and entry remodel at East Elementary; and all new or remodeled lab spaces for science, FACS, business and art at the Jr./Sr.. high school, a remodeled office and entry, as well as HVAC and roof improvements.
Board members supporting the two-tier ballot were Clay Aurand, Kevin Milner, Clay Siemsen, Chris Pachta, and Daryl Rieke. Board members Brian McCartney and Loisann Brown voted against the two-tiered ballot. McCartney wanted to take the entire project to voters; Brown was in favor of taking only the base project to voters.
Whole or parts
Couch spent the first portion of the meeting explaining each of the improvements that could be part of a bond election as a whole or in parts. One of the options included an auditorium, which board members agreed was important but was an amenity that would be a “hard sell” to the public, due primarily to the expense.
After the presentation board members spent the next two hours trying to come to a consensus on what type of bond proposal should be presented to the public for consideration. Opinions were at both ends of the spectrum. Board members agreed that if the public perceived they were trying to “oversell” a package, the entire proposal would go down in flames.
“We don’t want to lose things that we desperately need because people don’t think we need an auditorium; we for sure don’t want to go that route,” Rieke said.
Board member Kevin Milner, who represents the east and northeast portion of the district said patrons from the old Hillcrest district are going to be hard sells.
“Even if you put aside what the taxes are going to do to farm ground, if you even mention the word “gymnasium” to Cuba people I absolutely guarantee you, you will lose their vote,” he said.
Aurand pointed to the resounding defeat the bond election suffered five years ago and said proponents of a bond passage have their work cut out for them.
“If you look at the figures we would have to get at least 10% of the people who voted “no” last time to vote “yes” this time to give us a chance,” he said. “Then I think we would need another 10% to switch just to have even odds of passage. We need to be very careful how we craft this and present it to the public.”
Couch agreed. He said he wants to be able to get the message out that the board has the best interest of everyone in mind and that they are not wanting to overspend on things that aren’t needed in the district.
“Really it’s about the students,” Couch said. “We need to make sure our teachers have all the tools they need to educate the kids as well as possible; that means keeping the kids safe, giving them up-to-date facilities and programs so they can go on to the next level.”
USD 109 board is really working for everyone’s interests
EDITORIAL – FRED ARNOLD
You can really learn a lot by attending a meeting that lasts nearly four hours.
Mostly, to stay away from them.
As a personal rule of thumb any meeting that runs more than an hour tends to be fruitless. People lose their focus.
But Thursday’s special meeting of the District 109 school board got more informative as the night wore on. Board members, instead of zoning out of succumbing to dull senses, honed in even more on the issue at hand:
“How can we do what’s best for everyone involved?”
The issue has been what to do about a special bond election, what path should be taken and how can voters be properly informed of their options?
People who have not attended a school board meeting should. This group of seven very obviously takes their job quite seriously. The board is not made up of a group of “yes men and women” like most tend to think about small town, rural governing bodies.
The USD 109 board is made up of a group of very independent thinking people with diverse opinions. It was interesting to watch as board members legislated (as Superintendent Mike Couch referred to it) to get others on board with what their idea of the type of bond our district needed to try and pass and the verbiage that should be used.
In the end there will be a bond election. Board members voted, though not unanimously, to support a measure to the electorate of two questions: (to paraphrase)
1. Should a base plan consisting of, in part, infrastructure upgrades, classroom additions and safety measures be passed or
2. Should the base plan plus an addition of a multi-purpose room at the Jr./Sr. high school be passed.
While explaining to people that yes, we really were in the board room for nearly four hours, has been seems unbelievable the end result was yes, that is true.
And what is also true is that district patrons can rest 100% assured that they are represented by a board who has the best interest of the students, faculty, staff and tax paying citizens at heart.
They are not catering to any one group. The goal is to have the best school district possible.