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Frustration over USC sign cost

By Staff | Jun 23, 2019

The former United South Central School facility had an electronic sign in the front, as shown in this Register file photo. The USC School Board is debating purchasing a new one for the school.

“This isn’t choosing a sign over a teacher,” were United South Central School Board member Jon Feist’s words to the public when it came to the topic of spending up to $39,000 on a new LED messaging system at the USC school entrance on 11th Street in Wells.

Some teachers and staff members that were present at last week’s School Board meeting expressed their concerns about the projected cost of the new messaging system after the School Board had just met one month before stating they were letting two employees go due to budgetary concerns.

“These funds are non-transferable and can’t be used to help pay a teacher,” said Feist. “I’ve gotten that question quite a bit.”

“I appreciate the concern from everyone,” said board member Brad Heggen. “Ideally, the sign would’ve been up sooner, but here is an opportunity to boost our branding and visibility to the community and visitors to the school and I think that is worth something.”

“We didn’t have the sign up sooner because we didn’t own the property we wanted to place it on,” stated board member Tom Legred.

The proposal came after the USC School Board discussed and approved the revised 2018-19 budget, approved the preliminary 2019-20 budget, and considered the district’s long-term financial projections.

And the public input did not stop the board from deciding to move forward with looking into purchasing a new sign.

Kara Christianson, a USC educator and community member, stated her concern with the schoolpurchasing new LED signage and not addressing the school’s choice to hire more staff and faculty.

“I was intending to be an observer tonight,” said Christianson. “Until I saw on the capital outlay proposal $52,000 for signage. I understand this is for an LED sign that could cost up to $39,000 and also Rebel signs along the entrance road. The LED sign will cost USC money in the future for electricity and maintenance. Can we not get by with a less expensive route or no signs at all, since money seems to be an issue with just keeping our teachers? Can this capital outlay money be used to alleviate monies being spent from the general fund? Over $120,000 for glass walls in the media center and signage is a hard pill to swallow as a tax payer when we are being told our educators’ jobs are being cut because there is not enough money in the budget.”

Later on in their meeting, the board discussed the specificity of the restrictions of the capital outlay budget to those in attendance at the meeting, stating funds were non-transferable. When it came to discussion of the actual purchase options for a new LED display sign and messaging system at the school entrance, the board members agreed to allow the Public Relations Committee to look at the cost proposals and relay their decision at the next USC School Board meeting.

Sharron Parriott, a previous USC School Board member, also shared her feelings on the School Board’s financial situation.

“I also have looked at your outlays. Based on your current projection, this district will be in statutory operating debt in the year 2024. You have yet to pass an operating levy and it’s going to be a tough pill to swallow based on what Kara said,” Parriott addressed the board. “The irresponsible financial handlings of the taxpayers money the walls, the signage. There was a sign at the old school, and that was donated by community members. I don’t think the community members are going to pony that up this time. If you don’t get your operating levy passed again, which as I said is going to be hard for taxpayers, this district will be in debt in five years. You are not being good caretakers of the taxpayers’ money.”

None of the School Board members addressed the concerns of either Christianson or Parriott, and continued with their agenda. The board did approve the revised 2018-19 budget with a motion from Legred and a second from Feist, and they also approved the preliminary 2019-20 budget noting that there were a few unknowns in the 2019-20 budget due to a lack of information from the state. The motion to approve the preliminary 2019-20 budget was made by Brad Heggen and seconded by Mike Schrader.

While considering the school’s long-term financial projections, finance manager Stacy Whiteside stated the totals were a challenge to figure out because the state does not have their totals as of yet.

When it came to a decision to transfer $45,000 from the school’s General Fund to the Community Education Fund, board member Diana Brooks questioned why this transfer could take place but the possibility of hiring a new teacher was not.

The response to that question was that all funds in community education are restricted. Whiteside stated that funds could be put into community education, but not taken out.

All but Brooks approved of the transfer of funds.

The board also:

With the resignation of elementary school principal Tracey Magnuson, considered a process for hiring a new elementary principal and district assessment coordinator. Brooks and Schrader volunteered to be board representation for the hiring committee. Both chairman Dale Stevermer and superintendent Keith Fleming thanked Magnuson for her diligence, time and effort with the students at USC.

Renewed the school’s MREA membership for a fee of $1,860.

Established board member per diem at $50 per meeting, Southern Plains board member per diem at $50 per meeting, all day meeting at $100 per meeting, $600 annual for chair, and $200 annual for treasurer and clerk.

Approved a director stipend of $5,083 for ECFE, School Readiness and Pathways II programs.

Considered and approved a 2020 Spanish program trip to Texas.

Heard from the Workforce Committee who took into consideration of a personnel grievance. The committee rejected the grievance and the School Board agreed with the Workforce Committee’s decision and carried that motion.

The next regular USC School Board meeting is scheduled for July 16, at 7 p.m. in the Community Ed room at the United South Central School.