The Northwest Public Schools Board of Education appears to be keeping its advisory board member positions, but it does not plan to fill a vacant position at this time.
While no official vote was taken, a majority of board members said at the board’s meeting Monday night that they support board member Robin Schutt’s amendment to policy No. 9110, concerning the bylaws of the school board. Under the proposed amendment, Schutt said, the policy would add one sentence that reads, “Advisory board member positions may remain empty as decided on by the majority of the elected board members.”
“We could just add that line to adjust our policy and that way it gives us flexibility,” she said.
Board President Dan Leiser said the amended policy would need to be in writing to be voted on at the August board meeting. The amended policy comes in light of former advisory board member Travis Hedman’s resignation on April 10.
Advisory board members have been in place since a 1984 annexation agreement between Grand Island Public Schools and Northwest led to property owners in northwest Grand Island paying property taxes to GIPS, while also still paying on Northwest’s bonds and sending their kids to the latter district.
At last month’s board meeting, Northwest Business Manager Sharon Placke said the reason for the agreement was that individuals living in the Capital Heights area were Northwest board members at that time, still sent their kids to Northwest, despite their tax dollars going to GIPS, and wanted representation on the Northwest board.
During the public forum portion of the meeting, Jim Eriksen and Randy Stueven spoke in favor of the advisory board member positions. Stueven said he thinks advisory board member Becky Rosenlund is “incredibly important” and needs to retain her position on the board.
“I have always been fighting with you guys about the advisory board member position, but that is when we were electing it — holding an election in Grand Island to have someone sit here,” Stueven said. “I think you have improved this position a lot and have really tailored it to where it is really beneficial to us. When it comes around to that, I personally think you need to keep at least one position in.”
Rosenlund is expected be able to serve out the remainder of her four-year term that began in January.
Stueven suggested the board form an ‘operating council’ where the board can get information and input from option parents and use Rosenlund as a liaison between the school board and the operating council.
Eriksen noted advisory board members do not make any decisions on the board and are there to relay input from option families.
“That is basically providing you about two-thirds of your students,” he said. “This board is real good, but you have a lot of people who are unable to make your board meetings. You have other people who just do not feel comfortable addressing the board. I would encourage you to keep some sort of an advisory board member position so you get that information and know what those people desire and will support.”
Rosenlund said she has spoken to a number of option parents who say they feel the discussion on advisory board member positions and potentially reducing the number of option students at Northwest High School alienates them.
“They feel like their only value, in the eyes of the board, is in the dollars that come into the district from their enrollment,” she said. “If we are looking at things like trying to motivate people to donate to a capital campaign, we need to rely on a community of support outside of just district residents. Doing things that feel alienating to option families is also going to deprive motivation to participation in fundraising efforts and those kinds of things.”
Earlier in the meeting, the board discussed the possibility of using a capital campaign to potentially fund a new middle school structure or addition.
Rosenlund said, “When we are on the verge of needing to rely on some community support and getting some excitement about the direction the district is going to go, we need to make sure there is a feeling that even though option families and advisory board members do not get to vote, the opportunity to have a voice and be part of the conversation reflects some value.”
Board member Zach Mader said he did not want to fill the vacant position. Leiser said he has similar thoughts.
“I think in regards to filling this position, Robin (Schutt) said it well last meeting that there was a time and a place for the advisory board members,” he said. “If there was a need as far as the 20-year agreement, then it served its purpose.”