Interlocal agreement meeting target of Helm’s rage
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
It’s a routine part of every USD 480 board of education meeting, but tonight’s approval of minutes from previous meetings includes pointed remarks submitted by school board member Steve Helm. His comments appear as part of the minutes of the special 10-minute meeting at 3 p.m. April 6, just two days before the bond election.
The purpose of the rare Sunday-afternoon meeting was the official signing of an interlocal agreement between the City of Liberal, which sought to levy a half-cent sales tax designed to help pay for school improvements, and the board of education. Attorneys from both elected bodies had worked to refine the agreement and did not complete the finished document until the work week before the election.
Helm, who did not attend the meeting in person but was in attendance via the phone, said it marked “a new low” in local politics. His remarks, included in the minutes, were as follows:
“Our board president or superintendent called for a special meeting on Friday night, April 4, 2014, at 10:30 p.m. for a Sunday meeting with NO consideration of this board nember’s schedule. I am being asked to vote on an interlocal agreement which: a) I did not receive the document until the afternoon on Saturday, April 5, 2014, for review; b) No discussions with board attorney on the inter local agreement; c) No discussions or board approval on listed city infrastructure improvements to be paid with money from the USD 480 bond funds, should this bond issue pass.
“According to an email from Mr. Paul Larkin on April 4, 2014, Mr. Larkin and Mr. Kinser proposed scheduling this special board meeting so they could get a final ‘PR push’ in the newspaper. This meeting could have been scheduled and conducted on a regular workday, such as Monday. School board meetings, whether regular or special, are to conduct school business, not to create a partisan political event. This tactic is truly a new low in local politics.”
The board had been updated about negotiations with the city on the interlocal agreement for months, and the final approval came only after minor changes between legal staff for both boards, and legal counsel for both boards was in attendance at the meeting in question.
The Leader & Times was provided a document of an alternative to the recently approved bond issue that was distributed prior to the bond election and credited to board member Helm, but numerous attempts to contact Helm and validate the claims were not answered or returned, which left the question whether or not a board member was actively providing an alternative to the community-driven initiative which passed with 76 percent approval.
At tonight’s meeting, the school board will hear various reports on plans for the upcoming school year, most notably the hiring process for key positions. The district is in the process of interviewing candidates for director of auxiliary services, director of data and testing, and principals for South Middle School and Liberal High School. For each position, Superintendent of Schools Paul Larkin noted in his report, the district plans to interview a mixture of current employees and applicants from outside the district. In a related report, the board will receive the resignation of head counselor at Liberal High School, Yvonne Rito.
Director of Human Resources and Public Relations Jason McAfee prepared a recruiting report for the board, noting his impressions about a recent trip to Michigan.
“The week of April 7, I attended several recruiting fairs in the state of Michigan. Overall the candidates were impressive and were willing to relocate to Kansas,” he stated. However, “candidates from the University of Michigan were reluctant to visit with recruiters from Kansas and I would recommend we not attend that particular fair next year.”
As of April 15, McAfee reported, representatives from USD 480 have attended a total of 22 career fairs this semester.
Deputy Superintendent of Schools Renae Hickert will present a report about Literacy First, the district’s long-relied-upon reading program. School board member Tammy Sutherland-Abbott has asked for detailed information about the program’s effectiveness.
Travel plans are up for approval. These include the following requests:
AP (Advanced Placement classes) Summer Institute in Olathe: Wes Fox, Luz Riggs, Lindsey Diepenbrock, Margaret Porter;
CTE (Career and Technical Education) Coordinators in Wichita: Mariah Cline, Jenifer Jones, Ted Diepenbrock;
Guest Speaker Rudy Ruettiger at Liberal High School;
Ben E. Keith Food Show in Amarillo: Connie Vogts, Carmen Pineda, Alicia Pena;
ESOL Praxis Test (certification for teaching English as a Second Language) in Hays: Kate Piland;
Northwestern Oklahoma State University Career Fair in Alva: Jason McAfee.
The board will also hear details about new courses for LHS students, to be delivered at SCCC:
• Computer Application in Agriculture
• Introduction to Marketing
• Word Processing Applications
• Meat Science
• Introduction to Business
• Introduction to Accounting
• Exploring Sustainable Agriculture
• Office Procedures
Tonight’s board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Education Service Center, 624 N. Grant, and is open to the public.