BROKEN BOW – The long-awaited county budget hearing for the Broken Bow School Board stayed mostly on track Wednesday night, in more ways than one. By 6 p.m., 36 community members had filtered through the courthouse doors to voice thoughts on the near 6% tax ask increase from the mouths of superintendent Darren Tobey and school board president Tom Osmond.
After the two presented the case for the increased ask, during which Tobey cited the need for an HVAC overhaul and the prior five years of a static budget in the face of anticipated student body growth, citizens had the opportunity to voice their concerns for a loose two minutes apiece.
Nancy Bauman, former Broken Bow science teacher, wanted to know why, if the building and its HVAC system are as old as they are, money had not been allocated toward its renovation earlier, instead of other projects.
“We have noticed what wonderful sports facilities we have here at Broken Bow. And that’s wonderful because the kids deserve that. But why wasn’t that money spent on the building?”
School facility funding, Tobey replied, comes from sources as varied as the facilities themselves.
“New fences came from insurance, and the new track had been budgeted in; it was already within the budget.” The athletic boosters, he went on to say, raise a great deal of money for all corners of the school’s sports endeavors.
That being said, it would take an estimated $9 million to bring the schools up to the current code, which raised resident Les Kulhanek’s eyebrow. “How did these buildings get so far behind on getting up to code; were there no inspections being made prior to this?”
Tobey’s response, using the very building in which he stood as an example, was that a structure tends to remain up to code until a renovation process gets underway.
“In code, you’re all grandfathered in until you start to make some renovations to a building. The courthouse has a second floor. You’d never get by a second floor without an elevator; when the courthouse decided to do renovations, you have to put an elevator in.”
The $600,000 track again took center stage, this time as a thorn in resident Eric Tharp’s side as he voiced the room’s common concern.
“Where is the money going? If the track was not booster funded, why did we need to spend that money on the track; why couldn’t we put that money into our science labs, or into our library? I love sports, but education is ten times more important.”
The track was a necessary expense, Tobey replied, because of how rugged it had become; it proved a liability for students which could have led to injuries and exposed the school to even costlier lawsuits.
Amid questions about the rising ask and the possibility of a nonexistent ceiling year after year, Tobey pointed to his board’s track record in comparison to proximal schools both geographically and demographically; Cozad and Gothenburg schools both pay more taxes per student than Broken Bow.
“At some point, we have to look around at other people and go: ‘Wow, we’re doing a really good job.’ We’re already lower than all of our area schools.”
With the budget due to the state by Friday, and the sweat put into sculpting it long dried, the likelihood that the board will reshape any piece of it is next to nil; however, taxpayers can continue to make their voices heard: school board meetings are always open to the public.