There are only recall petitions for two of the Northwest school board members. Not because those two individuals need to be singled out, but because the others are up for election and can not be recalled. Let’s make that clear. If the election commissioner would have allowed it, there would be petitions for the entire board, with the exception of Zach Mader.
As I read the editorials in the paper and the comments and things being said on social media, I chuckle to myself. Not one of the folks who has spoken out has come to a single meeting or requested any information about this petition and why it is happening.
I wrote the 60 words that are on the petitions, and I assure you that nobody can begin to understand the magnitude of the issues at hand without further explanation. Until this point, I have given no further explanation, so I would say that most of those opinions, thus far, are made by assumptions.
So why a recall? Because this cage needs to be rattled! These are not new issues. These are certainly not Save Chapman issues. These are district issues that are costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year to educate the Grand Island district students.
The NWPS board has not been transparent with the taxpayers. They have not kept their word and followed through with their plans. They are not listening to the concerns of the public.
They’ve condensed grades 6-7-8 into three buildings, resulting in Cedar Hollow being at more than 109% capacity and growing. The board has implemented trimester classes and new teaching positions without authority. They never discussed with, or in front of the public, what these trimester classes would look like or cost.
Our teachers now need to have “climate control” meetings to help keep their tempers in check due to the overcrowding. Students are coming home telling their parents that their teachers are “stressed” and that they’re mean and yell. What’s happening?
Just last month, the board voted in a revised version of Appendix 1. This document is how the board communicates with the public how many resident students, option students and available option seats we have in the district. They neglect to tell you how many tax dollars each of those option students costs, nor do they tell you how many of the students in each grade are option.
I’ve done the math. Each one of the option students (last time I checked, we had 1,049) is subsidized nearly $3,000 per student, per year with our district tax dollars. That’s $3 million each year. The district receives just over $8,000 per option student from the state. The district report just came out ... the cost to educate our students? Just over $11,000 per student.
That $3,000 per student gap in funding that the taxpayers are subsidizing could be used for building improvements, transportation needs, salary increases. But the taxpayers don’t know this because the board is not being transparent.
The board was presented with a middle school plan that eliminated nearly all the current issues. It added seats in the district, more elective options, reduced the cost to educate each student to $8,300 per year and provided transportation districtwide. The cost to implement this plan was to be donated. 100% of the funds needed donated.
The board did not even consider this option. They didn’t share it with the public for discussion, they didn’t compare it side-by-side with the other options and their costs. Why? There’s obviously not anything better on the table. There’s definitely nothing as cost effective on the table. So why not give it a shot? Why not take it to the public for a vote?
This plan would reduce our taxes and our option students would no longer need to be subsidized. That’s $3 million dollars a year savings for the taxpayers. If we contracted with GIPS for the option students, and got the tax dollars for them that GIPS is currently pocketing, the state could save a chunk of change as well. After all, we get 50% of our budget from the state.
There’s a very long history behind this, and the problems continue to unravel as I petition for signatures. There’s been mountains of research done, and petitions were filed because we have found that the board never had the authority to tax us for option students in the first place. The Appendix was updated to include our current enrollment, not necessarily our current capacity.
The board also didn’t make the public aware of the changes they were making or the cost that those changes would bring along. Are you aware that according to Appendix 1, our capacity for the 2020-2021 school year quadrupled? Anyone concerned how and or why that happened? And how much that’s going to cost?
Signing the petitions gives you the option down the road. The petitions alone can not remove anyone from their seat. The petitions will simply put the option on the ballot: Should they be recalled?
I encourage you to sign the petition, ensure yourself the option in the future, and continue your research until the election. Talk to your neighbors. Call the district and ask questions. Attend a board meeting and ask questions. Ask some students (resident or option) how their experience in our district is for them. It’s time to take action!
The last opportunity to sign the petitions is Tuesday, Jan. 14, at the Chapman Community Building from 6 to 8 p.m.
Abby Thomas lives in Merrick County and in the Northwest School District. She is a member of the Save Chapman Committee and a district parent.