The Exeter-Milligan school board opened their budget hearing in the Exeter site gym with a large crowd.
Superintendent Paul Sheffield presented information on the budget and levy. He explained that there is a two percent increase in the budget. He noted that the levy has decreased from $1.26(including the building fund) 15 years ago to the current level of .62.
The board closed the budget hearing and opened the levy request hearing with Sheffield explaining that the total levy is .61785 down from .6250 last year.
After closing the levy request hearing the board opened their regular meeting and approved the consensus agenda before opening the public comment period.
Chairman Adam Erdkamp explained that anyone could speak once for five minutes but the board would not respond to questions or comments during the public comment period.
Nearly every speaker thanked the board for all the time and energy they have invested in the district and in the students.
First to take the microphone was Sara Pella, an Exeter resident, former EM teacher and current long term sub at Friend. She pled with the board to approve the coop stating, “ The opportunities that these students not only could have but should have with this coop would help them become better athletes, drama students, quiz bowl teammates, and more. This co-op would challenge each student to make them a better teammate, challenge them to become a better leader, challenge them to work harder, create mental and physical toughness, challenge them to study more, all of which are great attributes that will make life a little easier once they are out of high school.”
Next was EMF FFA Advisor and shop teacher at EM Miranda Hornung, who recalled her request to the board to separate the Exeter-Milligan FFA club from the Friend prior to the school year. She explained that she no longer wanted that after she had experienced the entire group attending Husker Harvest Days earlier in the day.
She was encouraged by the unity she saw in the students while they were sporting their EMF FFA shirts and saw the opportunities the coop will provide.
Exeter resident and EM history teacher and junior high football coach Brian Murphy expressed his thoughts that the “positives far outweigh the negatives in cooping.”
He spoke about the advantages of “competition and collaboration for students. “
As a patron Murphy encouraged the board to act before the legislature forces small schools to coop, “This is a great opportunity for students. I believe working with Friend is in the best interest of students and patrons.”
Exeter resident Becky Erdkamp encouraged the board to put aside emotion and look at the facts. “It’s about being a part of something that is bigger than one person. . .Competition pushes us to achieve more.”
Matt Nicholas, Exeter-Milligan science teacher and golf coach explained that he was in favor of the coop and encouraged the board to vote yes. He asked the board to explain what the next steps might be in their discussion period since the Friend board had a tied, and thus, a negative vote.
Exeter-Milligan junior Troy Kallhoff was next at the podium and he explained he had polled some of the students at EM and found 22 were not in favor of the coop. He noted he did not poll all of the students.
He added that he wanted to make sure the board was aware of the students’ thoughts, but added, “We understand that whatever decision you make it will be in our best interests. I just want the academics to be as important as the athletics are.”
Exeter area resident Kevin Songster expressed his concern about so many of the activities taking place in Friend and was concerned that all of the football might be moved to Friend eventually. He asked the board to consider finding more ways to seat more people in the Exeter gym so that volleyball could be played in Exeter.
Songster concluded, “If this is going to be a coop and fair to everyone there needs to be something in every town. It’s really not a coop if everything is in one town. I’m not for or against. Let’s just make it fair for all of the communities.”
Friend alumni David Segner expressed that he came to show his support for the students of both district. He heard students were upset after the Friend meeting. He noted that the current activities the districts share have been “very successful and provide a great opportunity for our kids. . .why not add to it?”
Milligan resident and EM alumni Tina Yound spoke about the disappointment in the Friend vote. “I truly do not believe that this is over. Trust in your administration and coaches . . .vote for a yes for the coop with Friend.”
Danielle Pendleton a Friend alumni and resident didn’t want to let an opportunity to speak pass her by. She explained that “Community members (in Friend) didn’t feel that they needed to speak as they felt the majority was in favor.”
She added that “Emotions can cloud judgement. I trust our administration to set us up for success.”
With no one else coming forward to comment the board closed the public comment period at 8:31 p.m.
The board moved on to a playground construction update which Sheffield explained should be completed in the next several weeks.
Under action items the board approved the budget, the property tax resolution and Sheffield as the representative for all local, state and federal programs.
With a motion brought up about the coop Sheffield shared a sample motion with an option for Friend to pass the coop by Dec 1.
Several board members objected to giving Friend that much time and asked to limit the proposal to November 1.
Board member Dan Kallhoff questioned if the board should vote as Friend had already voted against the coop.
Board member Eric Milton responded that he thought the Friend board questioned the EM commitment and felt if the EM board voted it would “throw it back in their laps.”
The board discussed the legality of Friend re-voting on the issue. Sheffield and Erdkamp explained that it would require a majority vote to put the item back on the agenda.
Board member Allen Vavra commented, “I get that it didn’t pass Monday night, but my question is on the timeline. You either want to do it or you don’t… I don’t want to work with a coop when one board doesn’t want to do it.”
He then questioned if Friend would introduce another proposal. Milton responded, “I don’t want to vote on a different proposal.”
“I don’t want to approve this and leave it open ended,” added Kallhoff, “Like we are giving a blank check.”
Vavra asked about the latest that a coop could be decided and Sheffield responded that due to scheduling and conference alignment, December would be the latest.
Kallhoff confirmed that speech and one act would be part of the coop but Sheffield explained that Quiz Bowl would not be included as it takes place during the school day and is not a NSAA activity.
Several board members took the opportunity to make their position known starting with Kendra Jansky. “I want what’s best for both communities. Tough choices have to be made. . .but this is not a tough decision. We can work together toward the goal. . .we have to trust both administrations will do their job.”
Erdkamp expressed his disappoint with those on the Friend board who voted no, “the reasons they didn’t vote for the coop were selfish. They didn’t listen to the people. . .look at the data and what patrons want to do. We are willing to give them a chance to correct it.”
Board member Paul Jurgensen expressed his concern and noted that the districts need to “look at the enrollment. We have to do something.. . today or tomorrow it may not matter but it two or three years it sure will.”
With no other board discussion Erdkamp called for a vote on the coop and the board voted unanimously to coop all NSAA activities with Friend. The audience exploded in loud applause after the decision was confirmed.
The board closed the meeting by setting the next meeting for Oct 12 in Milligan.