What seemed like a simple request to hire a few people to tackle summer projects at the school turned into a lengthy debate among Nevada’s school board members Monday.
Nevada’s new superintendent, Steve Gray – who was welcomed to his first meeting with the board as things got started Monday evening – opened the discussion about summer projects by noting that Dave Kroese, the district’s director of transportation, buildings and grounds, had wondered if it might be possible to hire a few more summer helpers to deal with things like mowing, painting and mulching, so that more experienced full-time maintenance staff could focus on projects that continue to get moved down the line because there isn’t time to get them done.
Gray noted that some of these maintenance projects are aesthetically important to the school district. "We are asking the board to allow us to do that immediately, to try to get some young people into these positions to free up our staff, maybe on a limited basis (spring through fall)," Gray said.
Kroese and Middle School Principal Chris Schmidt both commented on the huge amount of painting that needed to be done at the middle school before the school year starts. Kroese added that mulching should have been done earlier in the year, but it’s been put off because there are other things that need to be done first.
Gray estimated that they’d spend around $5,000 per person to help with some of the projects, and they were asking for two people. "It’s a relatively small amount in the budget," he said of the $10,000 request.
But board vice president, Mike Bates, voiced concern. "If you’re bringing somebody on to do something one of our existing people would eventually get to, we (the board) just had a big talk about where our money needs should go," he said, reminding that the recent discussion centered heavily on reading needs.
"I don’t see the public complaining about our facilities right now. Compared to some of the other things we’ve discussed, I don’t think I could prioritize this (summer help) right now," Bates said.
Board member Dave Sutherland agreed with Bates, stating additional concerns about who could be hired for certain kinds of work. He felt legal counsel should weigh in on whether high school students – which might be the group that would be looked at to take the jobs - could be hired and what work they could do. He also felt there might be more management time involved in overseeing young people to be sure they do the work adequately.
Sutherland said he’d also like to see a plan about how the work would be paid for and exactly what projects the additional people would help with before anything was approved.
Board president Marty Chitty had a different opinion than Bates and Sutherland. Chitty took the side of wanting to do something quickly to help the maintenance department during what he feels is a busy construction year for the district.
"It’s July 8 and school starts (in August). If you’re going to do it (approve help), you’re going to do it right now," he said. Chitty said that in his mind, Kroese and Gray are both capable of showing good fiduciary responsibility. He thought the board could support them to get through the present summer.
But Bates held tight to his concerns about spending the district’s money. He was also concerned that this could turn into an expected ongoing position or two. "This (request) seems to come out of left field, and at an inopportune time. It’s something we’d like to do, but not something we have to do. If this need manifests itself, then build a case next year and bring it back … when we’re doing budgets," Bates said.
Gray said he would take responsibility for why the request had come about at this time. Having just started with the district, he said he had asked Kroese to help with his learning curve in identifying things as they toured the facilities. "As we take tours, (Gray has asked) ‘when are we going to do this’ or ‘why aren’t we doing this?’ So at what point do we say, our list has been going on for awhile and at what point will we take action to do something? That’s why this is coming in front of you," Gray said.
Sutherland said he wanted the new superintendent to be asking those questions and pushing the district on what needs to be done. But he would rather see something written out in a three-, four- or five-year plan.
Gray said that’s what he, too, looks forward to doing – short-term and long-term planning to map out the issues. But at this very time, there is a short-term need.
Chitty, still on board with putting some funds toward helping the maintenance department this summer, said it might be a mistake to put money into helping finish some projects. But, he said, "If I’m going to make the mistake on this issue, I want to make the mistake trying." Chitty added, "All I’m asking is that if there is something we can do for this school, so that everything we could possibly get done in a reasonable time frame gets done (let’s do it). I feel there are times we need to take a leap of faith."
After some additional debate among the four board members present at the meeting, including Tom Maier, who didn’t state strong feelings either way, the board came to a compromise. They agreed to allow a one-time expenditure of a maximum of $5,000 between now and Dec. 31 of this year for maintenance help.
Kroese, who before the motion was passed told board members not to do anything they weren’t comfortable with, was asked to come back to the board after this year and show them what was able to be accomplished with the $5,000 and what plan is needed for accomplishing more of the maintenance projects – referred to as the PPEL (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) list – in the coming years.
FFA wants to seize land opportunity
Also on Monday, the Nevada School Board received written communication from ag instructor and FFA advisor Kevin Cooper about an opportunity for the FFA to manage crops on city land along Airport Road. Cooper said the FFA would like to take on management of 60 acres of a tract east of Airport Road and just north of Highway 30. The rest of the land is where Ryerson Van Wall is building a new store and where a street is being put in.
Cooper said students will learn by being involved in the procurement process, agreement language, field preparation, soil testing, planning a crop, commodity marketing, harvesting, harvest loss calculation, risk management and using communication skills.
Gray said there is some risk, in that the property is for sale and if a buyer were found, depending on the timing, there could be a loss of crop. But he said Cooper believes that risk is minimal, given the lengthy time it usually takes for those sales to be fully completed.
By taking on management of the property, Cooper said this would be a situation of "mutual benefit" for the school and city. "Nevada FFA gets any proceeds from soybeans, corn, forage or hay. However, if a company chooses to locate in this development, Nevada FFA will allow for development to proceed in spite of potential crop loss during growing season."