WAHOO – A number of topics have been popping up in the community regarding the Wahoo Public School District. Board of Education President Rob Brigham and Superintendent Brandon Lavaley discussed these topics with the Wahoo Newspaper last week just as a letter was sent out to district patrons regarding these issues.
In the letter and in the interview, Lavaley and Brigham stated they want to provide clarity about these topics, starting with the facilities piece.
Recently, the school board approved creating a nonprofit corporation to be used as an alternate funding mechanism for possible future projects.
Brigham, who is president of JEO Consulting Group, said it is basically a lease purchase mechanism where the district puts money in the building fund over the years and then determines how to use it. Brigham said for the last several years the school district has been levying 14 cents annually into its building fund, which is the maximum allowed by state law. This levy also has to be included in the overall levy, which is capped at $1.05 by the state.
“So it’s the same money it’s just a matter of how do you want to use it,” he said.
A district could save up until there is enough to do the kind of project that they need to do for the good of the of the district, or could do a more comprehensive project and use it to pay off debt as through a lease purchase mechanism, Brigham explained.
Lavaley said by forming a nonprofit corporation, the district is not obligated to take on a project now or in the future.
“It just allows them the flexibility to look into those alternative financing options to see what solution may fit for the district at this time,” he said.
After the school district’s failed bond issue three years ago, a Citizen’s Advisory Committee was formed to develop possible resolutions to the lack of space, particularly at the middle school/high school. Suggestions were made, but soon after the COVID-19 pandemic began, and the district’s focus was elsewhere.
The committee also recommended alternative financing, recognizing that it would likely be difficult to pass a bond issue in the next few years, Brigham said. That is one of the reasons the school board is looking at this option.
At this time, the district has submitted a request for qualifications (RFQ) to architects for facility assessment, review of the current capacity and future needs. The board will look over the qualifications, set up interviews and select a firm, which the board will then consider.
The school board is going this route as a response to comments made by the public about architectural firms that were used during the previous bond issue.
“In regards to some of the feedback that we got from the public we just feel like it would be best practice for us in this situation that we go ahead and ask for qualifications, see what we get for submittals, go through an interview process,” Brigham said.
If the school board chose to move ahead with a project, the district would not be required to use the architect for that project, the superintendent said.
“And at this point there would also be no contract for exchange of funds, they’re not tied to us we’re not tied to them,” he added.
When the bond issue failed three years ago, the district was already feeling a crunch when it comes to capacity and space, Lavaley said. Things were pretty tight. But they are getting even tighter.
“We have every possible space on campus utilized nearly 100% of the time. And so, our big issue is we’re running out of space and we’ve got to find a way to do that sooner rather than later,” he said. “It was an issue three years ago when we ran the bond issue. And I think it’s a bigger issue today.”
The projected numbers for this fall’s kindergarten class is close to 100, which means tight quarters for four classrooms. And Lavaley said that class, by the time it gets to its senior year, will be even bigger, as the district experiences 1 to 2% growth each year.
The district also lengthened the school day at the middle school/high school to accommodate an expanded lunch period. But Lavaley said they hesitate to extend the lunch period any further, as they would be feeding students before 11 a.m. and after 1 p.m.
Enrollment was at 1,070 last September in pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. By the end of the school year, another 21 children had enrolled, Lavaley reported.
“And I’m anticipating somewhere between that 1,091, 1,100 type number
when we come back to school
in August,” he added.
Other concerns that have been voiced by the patrons publicly center around the pandemic and mask mandates. Brigham said masks helped keep kids in school last year, which was the district’s goal. There was not enough space to allow for adequate social distancing, so masks were the answer. However, that answer was not always popular.
“We were doing the best we could with the situation presented and again, there were some conclusions drawn without having all the facts,” Lavaley said.
As the school year begins next month, masks will be optional. The district supports students or staff who choose to wear masks, however, Lavaley said in his letter.
“We have had zero discussion about requiring masks at this point,” Brigham said.
The COVID-19 vaccination also remains optional.
“While vaccinations may protect individuals from the virus or potential quarantines due to exposure, as a school district, we do not plan on making inoculation required for attendance,” the letter states.
Another hot button topic in the public eye is comprehensive health education standards. The Nebraska Department of Education released a draft in March of the new proposed health standards for public comment. A second draft is still in the works and won’t be released until fall. Then the public will again be allowed to provide input before the standards are finalized or further revised.
School districts are not obligated to adopt the comprehensive health education standards once, or if, they are finalized, Lavaley said in his letter.
Brigham said the board has no plans to take action on the issue.
“There’s just nothing to take action on at this time,” he said.
Suzi Nelson is the managing editor of the Wahoo Newspaper. Reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.