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District debates future of Central Office PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 12 January 2018 10:56


• Leader & Times

An item initially removed from the agenda for Monday’s USD No.480 Board of Education (BOE) meeting came back up for discussion after the district’s superintendent questioned its removal.

The item centered around new locations for USD 480’s Central Office (CO) and Education Service Center (ESC), and superintendent Renae Hickert asked the board why the item was removed from the agenda.

“We had it on the top 10 things of things left over to do with the bond money,” she said. “I just want to get a sense of direction to make sure I do it correctly the next time.”

Hickert had formed a committee made up of employees and administrators who work in Central Office and the ESC, and BOE President Steve Helm told her committees such as this had to be approved by the board.

Hickert said she believed Helm was limiting what she could do as head of the district.

“So as superintendent, I have no authority to put together a committee?” she said.

Helm said if this is the case, board policy needed to be changed, to which Hickert responded with what she believed to be the current policy.

“Policy says although the board has the right to overrule, they authorize the superintendent to run the district,” she said.’

Hickert said the committee, which includes USD 480 Federal Programs Director Sheri King and Business and Finance Director Jerry Clay, had visited several places in town and had a presentation ready for Monday’s meeting.

Helm then asked if the board had discussed ideas for buying a separate property for Central Office. Hickert said the committee was going to bring ideas to Monday’s meeting.

“The last meeting that I remember as a board, what we talked about and apparently didn’t vote on was that CO would become part of the bond issue,” Helm said.

Hickert said the board had taken previous action on the matter.

“Last summer or last spring, the board gave the vote to go ahead to use that part of McKinley to finish with the alternative school and FOCUS for (Liberal High School),” she said.  

BOE Vice President Travis Combs said the former home of McKinley Elementary had been previously discussed as a new home for Central Office, but that building is now being used for an alternative school, as well as for the district’s FOCUS program and technology department.

“I want to make sure that we’re doing things right,” he said. “If McKinley makes the most sense to be a Central Office and we can renovate that building to become that and maybe add on to that building to house technology to where everybody’s in the same spot and if we need to add on to the weight room building to house the alternative school, I would like to look into those types of ideas versus what’s being presented in this plan.”

Hickert said the committee did look at McKinley, but did not try to put people there.

“We wouldn’t have any meeting rooms,” she said. “We wouldn’t have a board room. We could use the gym for the board room. We’ve played with that. We could bring that back and have you guys look at it, but I would like to keep moving forward on this because it was in the top 10.”

BOE member Nick Hatcher said despite the board policy, the committee’s presentation should be heard.

“What’s the harm with hearing the committee or what they found out about?” he said. 

Combs said he wanted to make sure all avenues were explored inside and outside the district and challenged the committee to think outside the box. He added that he also did not like the makeup of the committee with four classified staff and two full-time staff.

“Who would you have?” Hickert said. “That’s only the people that are going to be in there. You’re not going to have teachers in there. We’re going to have administrators and secretaries. Again, I want to make sure I’m doing it the way the board intended.”

Hatcher said another issue comes about with the discussion, as he addressed Hickert.

“If we can’t allow you to do your job and put a committee together, are we going to approve every principal that asks for a committee at the high school or every grade school?” he said. “I don’t want that responsibility here. The committees that we voted on are the committees that we felt were necessary to help administer and run the district.”

Hickert added that she wanted the people impacted by the move to be involved in the decision of where to put Central Office.

“I wanted to have buy-in from the staff,” she said. “They’re the ones that are going to make up the majority of the staff in there.”

Hickert later said she would be willing to wait on the presentation, and if the choice of McKinley needed to be revisited, that could be an option.

The superintendent said what the committee wanted to present Monday was a non-binding recommendation to the BOE.

King said the presentation was to finish what the committee had decided and looked at, but the group had not previously been given an opportunity to bring the information to the board.

“We want to show you what we looked at and are bringing you what the recommendation beyond that was,” she said. “In fairness to us, we weren’t given the opportunity to share that with you.”

Combs said the board was never told that buildings outside the district were being looked at as a home for Central Office.

“Mrs. Hickert made that call,” Hatcher said. “I firmly stand by her decision to make that happen.”

King then addressed Combs, saying the committee was doing what he had told them to do – think outside the box.

“I think you just said that a moment ago to think outside the box, and so when Mrs. Hickert asked us to, that’s what we did,” she said.

King said she and Clay had sat down with hourly staff from both Central Office and the ESC and also challenged them to think outside the box.

“What things would be available to us in Liberal to fit the needs that we established?” King said. “Our staff was very much looking forward to addressing you this evening with the recommendations. I hope that we’re able to do that in the future and not have to redo two months worth of work which we did.”

BOE member Matt Durler said he was in favor of exploring options outside the district, saying he did not like the idea of being restricted.

“I do think there’s some options in the district, but if the best option for this is a different building in town, I don’t see taking that off the table,” he said. “Whoever needs to be on the committee we need to put on the committee in conjunction with the staff, but wherever it is needs to be right, not because it’s a building we have or it’s convenient.”

After more discussion, Hickert suggested putting the presentation on the agenda for a meeting in the near future, most likely the first meeting in February.

“In the meantime, we can have them go look at existing school buildings, or we can wait till after the presentations and say, ‘None of this really fits. Let’s look at what we have,’” she said. “They did look at least one school building in this first round. There’s nothing to say there can’t be a round two.”

Clay said with technology workers already in McKinley, bringing Central Office and the ESC into the building would not work with the current facility, and additions would need to be made.

“We were looking at buildings without having to add on to buildings,” he said. “If that’s an option, that’s something we can go back and look at.”




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