Political Forum Spotlight: Broken Bow School Board

Political Forum Spotlight: Broken Bow School Board
BBPS School Board Candidates (L to R) Pam Holcomb, Tom Osmond, Tim Chancellor, and Amy Tharp answer questions at Monday's forum.

BROKEN BOW – The main event of Monday’s political forum at Broken Bow’s Municipal Building was unquestionably the Broken Bow School Board; over 40 residents were in attendance to hear all four candidates’ views and visions regarding school security, renovation priorities, the drug policy, and developing culture.

All four generally agreed on the priorities of the school board: to collaborate with the superintendent to set school policy and the tax levy, to spend the money raised from that levy wisely, and to advocate for the students, staff, and facilities the board represents.

However, the four did not quite see eye-to-eye on renovation priorities. Incumbents Tom Osmond and Pam Holcomb agreed that revamping the science and CTE classrooms should take precedence. Incumbent Tim Chancellor asserted that updating the HVAC system was the most important update.

Challenger Amy Tharp questioned the priorities of the board’s spending policy in general, citing her observations as a citizen present at the board meetings.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t witness any discussion about the bond issue until September. Three months were spent discussing whether they should buy a $300,000 tour bus. I understood the need, but they spent the money to buy it, and in the next breath, said ‘Oh, by the way, we’re going to do a $30 million bond issue.’ I said to myself, ‘Where’d that come from?’”

Given the alarming number of resignations across the school district at the end of last school year, candidates were asked plainly: is it a problem with the culture within Broken Bow?

All candidates generally agreed that the district’s culture was a work in progress, though acknowledged that it had come an astoundingly long way even from last year’s exodus.

Current board president Tom Osmond pointed to a broader phenomenon as a part of last year’s staffing crisis.

“It was concerning to all of us when you have that many people leave, but consider what was going on in the world at that time. We weren’t the only school or place of employment that was having a tremendous amount of people leaving; it wasn’t just locally-driven.

Did we have some issues to take care of? Yes; there’s always room for improvement. But going through that, one of the main topics in our strategic plan is culture, and we’ve concentrated on that from May of last year through now.”

In regards to school safety, each candidate expressed the necessity of keeping security protocol current, even if that meant consistent revision. Board member Pam Holcomb added that school safety isn’t all deadbolts and buzzers.

“I think that part of the conversation also needs to be the mental illness crisis we’re seeing as a nation; something is making kids come to school with guns. If we can get a hold of that a little better, that’s going to help solve the problem as well.”

Naturally, the drug policy’s enforcement emerged as a point of contention: should students who refuse to opt in be excluded from commencement ceremonies? President Osmond and board member Holcomb voiced that participation in commencement is a privilege; Tharp and Chancellor believed walking the stage is a right. Chancellor explained.

“There was a lot of discussion before we put the drug policy in place, and I believe it was the right decision to hold the kids accountable, make them think about what they’re doing, and hopefully steer them in the right direction as they become young adults.

I believe that if the student has done everything necessary to graduate, they should be able to walk across the stage in front of their family and receive their diploma.”

Elections for the school board will be held on November 8; the full political forum, including the Supervisors and Broken Bow City Council, can be found on the Sandhills Express Facebook page.