BBPS board passes $10.99 million budget despite impassionate pleas

Staff Writer

It took five rounds of voting for the Broken Bow School Board to gain a majority to pass a budget at the school board meeting Wed., Apr. 12, 2017.

On the fifth vote, a budget of $10,990,000 was approved. That amount is $410,000 less than the initial $11.4 million budget proposed.

All board members were present: Pam Holcomb, J.B. Atkins, Carl French, Tom Osmond, Gerald Pirnie and Mary Shaw.

During much discussion between some board members on exactly which position to cut or save and how much the savings would be in different scenarios, the figures became convoluted for many of the one hundred or so citizens who came to listen. Elementary school Principal Kim Jonas then requested the board give the administration a straight number, either a budget number or a cut number, and let them figure out the details.

The first vote was defeated 2-4 on a proposal to adjust the budget proposed at last week’s work session to allow for hiring of one or two teachers and/or one or more paras. (The budget proposed last week was $500,000 less than the initial $11.4 budget.) Voting against were Holcomb, Pirnie, Atkins, and French. Voting for were Osmond and Shaw.

The second vote, motioned by Holcomb, was for a budget of $11.2 million. This ended in a tie vote and did not pass. Voting for were Osmond, Holcomb, and Shaw. Against were Pirnie, Atkins and French.

The third round of voting was for a budget of $10.9 million. This also ended in a tie and did not pass, with a loud round of applause from the crowd. Voting for were Pirnie, Atkins and French. Voting against were Shaw, Holcomb and Osmond.

The fourth round of voting was for cuts of $430,000 instead of the $500,000 needed to reach the proposed budget. This did not pass due to a three-three tie. Voting for were Atkins, French and Pirnie. Voting against were Holcomb, Osmond and Shaw. Osmond was the last to cast a vote and it took him several seconds, rubbing his face, before he voted No.

The fifth and final numbers were motioned by French and seconded by Osmond for the $10.99 milllion budget. Voting for were French, Osmond, Pirnie and Atkins. Voting against were Holcomb and Shaw.

This approval lets $90,000 in proposed cuts back into the budget, however, the details of how $410,000 is going to be cut from the proposed budget are yet to be seen.

Before the votes and in between votes, board member Pam Holcomb spoke openly against steep cuts. She said providing good quality education, not just standard, not just average, for kids is part of being stewards of tax payer money. "If we do this, you're going to lose kids. You're going to make it very easy to happen. Providing for kids that we have here is being good stewards. Losing kids will make cost per kids go up," Holcomb said. She also reminded the board "We are a school board, not a tax board," a comment that was met with applause.

Six people came forward to speak during public comments. Robust applause came from the audience after each speaker.

Gary Wright, who taught at BBPS for 33 years, said when he taught "I was willing to put our school against any school in the state..I don't want our school, my school, because it still is my school, to be average. If you want things, you have to pay for them."

Former BBPS music teacher Bill Reichert first told the board that moving meetings to Wednesday night, an evening traditional reserved for family and church activities, was confusing and chastised the board for ignoring that tradition. He then spoke in favor of retaining a vocal position. "What's best for our kids," he asked. "Music fills a niche for kids not involved in sports. Without it, education will not be complete." He said with all the progression Broken Bow has made in the past year, the attitude of the school doesn't fit. "Our kids deserve better," he said.

Donna Runyon spoke with her daughter, Michelle, at her side. She asked the board to consider where education ends and where dollars begin. She spoke in support of ESU10, saying students such as her daughter need that advocate. She also urged the board to reconsidered cutting para positions. "Without paras, a lot of kids would have dropped out by now," she said.

After public comment was finished, board member Gerald Pirnie inquired about whether BBPS would continue to work with ESU10. According to Nikki Altig, the Special Education Director for area schools, BBPS will continue to use services from ESU10. The school is ending their contract with the current speech pathologist and has signed a new one, allowing for Michelle to continue to use the services provided through the program.

Don Paris, plant manager of BD, one of Broken Bow largest employers, talked about what a good school system means to job recruiting. "We are now at 500 (employees) and growing," Paris said. When people are considering moving to Broken Bow for a job at BD here, he said, the first two questions are "Is there housing? How are the schools?" With recent builds, he said housing is being addressed. He encouraged the board to consider both short and long term implications of their decision.

BBPS sophomore Weston Walz told the board of the importance of the many extra curricular activities he is involved in. After last week's work session he said, "I found myself fearing for the future of my education...Don't push students into cookie cutter molds. I am fearful and disappointed." He asked the board to look at the goal of optimizing learning and "give students a continued reason to stay and be proud."

Julie Hovie, a junior at BBPS, was the last to take the podium. She became very emotional and passionate as she spoke of her desire for a better education. "I want to go into the medical field. I want all the education I can get. You have no clue who you are affecting," she said, her voice choked with emotion. "What is your priority?...You're telling me you don't care...it's about greed, money and selfishness." Holvie wiped away tears and read school board guidelines, reading "I will represent the entire school district, rather than individuals or groups." At the end of her impassioned plea, she said, "Please, education is important. It's our future."

Superintendent Tom Bailey read a letter from two residents at an assisted living facility in Broken Bow, Mary Paul and Earl Kennedy, which stated the proposed cuts were "too drastic" and are "disparaging to students."

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