News That Matters To Antelope County - Your News. Your Way. Every Day!
© Pitzer Digital, LLC
Both dissent and tension among the Neligh-Oakdale Board of Education were evident Monday night during a special meeting that could have halted all communications of a possible school merger.
While Neligh-Oakdale did not pull out of talks with Clearwater and Ewing, it was nearly 45 minutes into the meeting before it was known why board members Ryan Koinzan and Cory Furstenau took the unprecedented step of calling the special meeting.
It is Neligh-Oakdale’s policy that meetings are called by either the superintendent or board president; however, two board members can collectively call a meeting if they feel it necessary. Superintendent Scott Gregory previously said the latter was the case in this instance but did not elaborate as to the reasoning, which district stakeholders openly questioned during public participation.
During item 6-B, which was about ceasing involvement with an economic impact study on the school merger, both Furstenau and Koinzan addressed why they called the meeting. Both said they do not have an issue with the study itself and instead voiced concern over Board President David Wright’s involvement.
“I think there was action taken by an individual on the board, and it wasn’t taken through a committee to the board,” Furstenau said.
Koinzan was more direct and said calling the meeting was what he had to resort to for information, even though he is a member of the subcommittee on discussions with neighboring schools.
“As a board member here, I don’t own a newspaper, I’m not the president of the board,” Koinzan said. “When I don’t feel my voice is being heard, this is what Cory and I had to resort to today. We want to make sure the public knows what’s going on — good or bad, indifferent or against. I was elected by the people of Neligh-Oakdale to make good decisions, not to be ran over by someone else. Cory and I will continue to call meetings as we see fit to get the information out to the people.”
Koinzan said although he does not set meeting agendas, which is the role of the superintendent and board president, he is responsible to the people of the Neligh and Oakdale communities and wants to “make sure we do it correctly.”
“I’ve seen what a failed bond attempt did to this community, did to this school district. If I’m going to go down that road, I want to make damn sure we got our ducks in a row - that I’m with the people. I don’t want to see if fail and see my school fall apart in between now and then,” Koinzan said. “To me, that’s what this meeting is about. It ain’t the nuances, board policy or this other crap. It’s about getting the information out and being honest. I’m the little boy who grew up down the street at 411 K Street. I graduated from here. I’m from Neligh-Oakdale, not Ewing, Nebraska.”
Wright, the only graduate of Ewing serving on the Neligh-Oakdale board, did not respond and immediately asked for a motion to cease involvement with the study. No such motion was given.
Koinzan and Furstenau later asked about future consolidation subcommittee meetings, including the upcoming Wednesday, Sept. 27, meeting and who would be attending. The more clarification Furstenau sought about who was attending and why, the more defensive Wright became until board member Kenny Reinke stepped in.
“To me guys, we can’t talk out of both sides of our mouth,” Reinke said. “We can’t say we don’t have the information and then say the subcommittee can’t do that or we don’t want that information. That’s the give-and-take that I’m getting at tonight. We can’t do that.”
Michael Wright of Neligh, who served on the Neligh-Oakdale Board of Education in the early 2000s when the last feasibility study occurred, asked board members to start working together.
“I know you guys have disagreements, but you have to find a way to bury whatever is going on and work together and you can present to us what we need to know and we can help make that decision,” he said. “There’s just a lot of tension there, and we got to find a way to work through it. … You got to move along and move forward.”
Much of Monday’s meeting included statements and questions from the public. The board unanimously voted to waive its policy stating only district residents could speak at the meeting, allowing Regina Krebs, Clearwater Advisory Board Member to speak. Krebs, however, immediately stated she was there to provide a review of the consolidation subcommittee meetings but did not represent her board at the meeting.
She said the subcommittee has not met since July when it released information on a potential merger.
“It was very simply a 10,000-foot overview of what a consolidated district might look like. It was absolutely not information I would expect the Board of Education to make decisions from,” Krebs said. “It was soley for the purpose of holding community meetings to gauge if there was even an interest in continuing discusssions because let’s be honest, this isn’t our first rodeo at these types of conversations.”
Krebs said on the agenda for next week’s subcommittee meeting is conversation on how to move forward, who to talk to, general fund levy, new facility, what to do with the existing facility and curriculum.
The potential of a school merger to offer a career academy and curriculum advances was mentioned numerous times as reasons to continue discussions of consolidation. Krebs called the curriculum “the important” aspect of upcoming conversations between the schools, Neligh-Oakdale board member Scott Svatos disagreed and called that “putting the cart before the horse.”
“I don’t think we should worry about what classes we’re going to offer if we can’t even agree to do it. Why worry about the classes?” Svatos said. “I feel we’ll have the classes if we have the kids. . . . . The bottom line is let’s get something put together first for the voters to vote on.”
At the end of the meeting, Reinke said it may be time to end the subcommittee meetings and move all consolidation conversation to full board meetings with the public present.
“To me it’s a big enough issue that it almost has to be board to board,” Reinke said. “Somebody might have a very good question and they’re not even related on that committee but it might pertain to what we’re discussing. … To me personally, we have to be able to gather better information and we all have to hear it at the same time so we can form opinions and make the best decisions."