Petty, Sutherland: This will be repealed after election
By ANANDA COLEMAN
Leader & Times
Despite Monday night’s stormy winter weather, conversation became heated as the USD 480 School Board approved superintendent Lance Stout’s proposal to add 14 new positions to the district: five new K-3 certified teachers, five technology coaches, two assistant principals for Liberal High School, a coordinator to oversee the expanding college-preparation “AVID” program, and one full-time police officer. The total package comes at a cost of $665,000.
A majority of the board — Dan Diepenbrock, Jim Jury, Cheryl Louderback, Stacy Johnson and Nick Hatcher — felt that Stout’s professional opinion merited their unwavering support and voted to follow his recommendations. Board members Reid Petty and Tammy Sutherland-Abbott voted against the motion. They voiced several concerns, including the district’s impending $2.3 million loss, caused by state budget cuts.
Tuesday morning, Stout commented on the difficulties board members faced.
“They had to make a tough choice, and I respect that,” he said. “We’re going to move forward together and do the best we can. We’re certainly going to make the most of the board’s decision. It’s really all about the children, the students and that’s what has put me in the position I am in. It’s not really about winners or losers.”
However, the decision was reached only after an intense contest.
“This is about the worst time possible [to create new positions] with the $2.3 million cut,” Petty said. “Every other district in the state is cutting right now. Garden City cut 27 staff and here we are trying to add another $665,000.”
“I simply ask ‘when will be a good time?’” Stout queried. “I fully understand how challenging our economy is,” he continued. “It seems like the price of everything is up and work is sparse. But when is it seriously going to get any better?”
Petty also pointed out that so far, the community has been opposed to higher taxes. He reminded the board of 2009’s bond issue, which failed (1,689 “no” votes to 1,135 “yes”).
“People have made it very clear that they do not want us to raise taxes,” he said. “We were elected by the people. We pass that organizational chart every year: people, board of education and it goes down. The people clearly showed in two elections — and we’ve got a survey to prove it, too — do not want their taxes raised. So this sort of proposal is not the sort of thing the people say they want. Why do we pass that organizational chart every year if all we’re going to do is go directly against the will of the people?”
Fellow board member Dan Diepenbrock disagreed.
“Once you are on the board, it is your duty to do what is best for the district, not what you think the people want,” he said.
“Reid, would you ever vote to raise taxes?” USD board member Stacy Johnson asked.
“Only if it was absolutely necessary,” Petty said, “but not when you’re $2.3 million in the hole.” Many people in the room disagreed.
“I beg to differ,” Stout said, “but it is [necessary]. You guys hold me accountable to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress).” Stout maintained his proposal would ensure the district met this and other mandatory goals.
Some board members said the issue was not one of money, but of providing the best for students and securing the district’s future. As debate became heated, voices were raised.
“I want the best school system for our children,” Nick Hatcher said emphatically, banging his fist on the table. “They deserve to have the best. If my superintendent tells me this is the best plan, I’m with it. I want the best for our community and our kids. We’re talking about the future of our community. We have to do the best job possible.”
“This is about going out on a limb to do what is necessary to impact children’s lives. I support this because ultimately I’m responsible for the children in this district,” Stout agreed. “This is what’s best for them.”
“Even if the people say that it’s not?” Petty asked. “What if the people say that it’s not?”
“I say it is,” Stout replied.
Sutherland-Abbott agreed that money was not the main issue; her focus was the district’s relationship with the community.
“I don’t know if it’s so much about money as it is community trust and timing,” Sutherland-Abbott said. “And I know you said ‘When will there be another time?’ but maybe if we had listened to what [the community] said when they voted the bond down and [if we had] sustained community trust, we wouldn’t even be having this issue. I know that your concern is for the kids but I’m afraid that when the new board comes in, they’ll reverse everything you’ve been working for.”
Tuesday morning, Sutherland-Abbott restated her concerns.
“Our meeting last night was frustrating. I know I’m only one vote but I know that when the new board comes in, all of this will be repealed,” Sutherland-Abbott said. “I think that the timing on this thing was inappropriate and that these issues should have been decisions for the new board to make because they’ll have to deal with the consequences. I think this will be reversed because this is not what the community wants. I think that until the community’s confidence is restored the district will not be able to go further.”
Petty did not offer further comments.