Photo by George Lauby
Photo by George Lauby
School board president Kathy Phares
Photo by George Lauby
At a special meeting Tuesday, the North Platte school board approved putting all sixth graders into Madison Middle School, but told superintendent Marty Bassett to take a year to make sure all the nuts and bolts of the plan are in place. The board voted 5-1 on the motion to implement the "sixth grade only" school in the 2015-16 school year.
Boardmember Jack Price cast the only 'no' vote. Price said after the meeting that the reconfiguration represents a major shift in the way the district operates, and he is not yet convinced that it is the best thing to do.
"I've gone back and forth on it for some time, but as of tonight, I'm not convinced. I have to vote my conscience," he said.
Under the plan, all seventh and eighth grade students would attend Adams Middle School.
The decision was not cut and dried.
Board president Kathy Phares heard people say the board made up its mind some time ago, but "they are not in my mind."
"We've all been doing quite a bit of thinking," she said. "We've done a lot of deliberation."
The initial motion by Julie Nielsen would have implemented reconfiguration in 2015-16, and also required administrators to first spell out staffing changes and financial costs, and conform to the district's goals for student success and stakeholder communication, and report back to the board in one year.
Phares said the board wanted to know more.
"We are not involved in the nuts and bolts, but it is hard to vote on something like this when we don't know how the plans will work," Phares said.
Superintendent Marty Bassett asked for clarification.
"Are you saying we will implement reconfiguration?" Bassett asked. "Or are you saying, 'Study this for another year and then we will vote on reconfiguration?'" Lisa Bianco said reconfiguration is difficult to approve, based on a plan that hasn't been developed yet.
Jack Price said he thought the motion was to approve reconfiguration.
Nielsen and Phares offered to amend the motion to ease Bassett's concerns, but Kimberley Kaschke said she needed "more time to flesh out the details."
"Very important details," she said.
Bassett said he was willing reconvene another committee and get their input about the details of the plan, but said "we need to know if we are doing it or not."
Nielsen then amended her motion, dropping the need to see the staffing changes, financial and stakeholder communication information. She said she trusted the administration to do that and keep the board informed.
Bianco and Kaschke said they preferred the first motion.
Bassett said "this is what we do, everyday. It's your job to set policy and direction -- and it's our job to carry it out."
"There is always an 'if,' -- personnel, money," Bassett said. "We look at those things every day. I understand that this is a big decision. I think it's very prudent to give us more time to work on it. We want to do this right. But in all honestly, you have to give us a little credit."
He said "in all honesty, it would be a little insulting" for the board to put conditions on the administration.
Bassett said the top 23 administrators are all in favor of reconfiguration.
Kaschke noted that the amended motion had not been seconded. After a considerable pause, Mike Morrell, who had not made a comment to that point, seconded the motion.
As votes were cast, most board members paused before casting their vote in favor. When it was Price's turn, he said 'no' into the microphone.
After the meeting, Morrell told the Bulletin that a lot of research has been done and he feels reconfiguration is the best thing to do for the students' education.
Kaschke told the Bulletin afterwards that "we all have concerns."
She said as a parent of five children, she understands the challenges that having students in different schools will present to families.
"I know the importance of keeping our attention on the pulse of the family," she said. "A happy family helps student success."
"This is a major shift," Price said afterwards, "but I think we can get a lot accomplished in a year."
Student says no
One person spoke in the time allotted for public comments. High school junior Jessy Hunt opposed reconfiguration.
Hunt said the value of education comes from caring for kids, not changing where they go to school.
She said high school students don't keep track of which students attended Adams and which attended Madison middle schools, countering the need for socio-economic blending that reconfiguration proponents have touted.
She also said students have to work to succeed.
"You can't just hand out opportunities. Students have to work for them," she said.
Hunt also questioned where the money would come from for buses and transportation.
"There are other educational needs besides buses," she said, such as new Net books (mini-laptop computers.)
"It seems like our district is focused on numbers on charts rather than the different learning styles of students," she said.
Note: Jessy Hunt's name was misspelled when this report was first published.