About 10 people gathered at Ballard’s November school board meeting Monday evening in Huxley. Most of the attendees were on hand to voice their concerns regarding the upcoming transportation director vacancy that will need to be addressed this spring, due to the recently-announced retirement of current director, Tom Sharpnack.
Many of the current bus drivers and staff were concerned about the possibility of the district choosing to outsource the contract to a company outside the district — something that would not only have a negative impact on the livelihoods of many Ballard-area residents who drive the buses, but students as well.
“Consistency is key,” said Deanna Rietgraf, a 20-year resident of Huxley and a bus driver for special needs children for the last six years. “Those children need a calm environment — someone who will tell them the same ‘good morning’ today as the day before.” Rietgraf mentioned how many of the bus drivers in the Ballard district really get to know their riders on a personal level, even attending their sporting events to cheer them on.
After hearing the concerns of several other Ballard bus drivers and long-time residents of the community, the board addressed the issue by stating that they had no intentions of outsourcing the contract and that the normal protocol of filling an open staff position would be followed this spring. The board also expressed a unanimous consensus with the crowd that they would much prefer to keep the position in-house. “I would much rather have a person I know driving a school bus than someone I don’t know,” stated board member Brandee Gatchel.
Tom Sharpnack is a jack-of-all trades for Ballard, also serving as the district’s mechanic. He announced his retirement effective June 30, 2018, the end of the fiscal year.
The other big topic of the evening was a “Facilities Master Plan Overview,” presented by Superintendent Ottie Maxey. The number-one priority, stated by Maxey, and echoed by the board, is renovations to the middle school. These renovations would include: Increased square footage for classrooms, cafeteria and main office; updating room finishes and mechanical/electrical updates in the building. There are four other projects that are also being considered, including:
1. Redesign of entryways at the two elementary locations and also playground hard-surface repairs.
2. Emerging needs at the high school with ag ed, industrial tech and the weight room.
3. Stadium updates.
4. Transportation office space, meeting room, and shop areas.
The school board recommended placing a priority on the middle school, and not delaying it any further. Most of the plans for the middle school were made nearly three years ago. Those plans and costs will be updated and the board will discuss those details, as well as the need and feasibility for a bond election, in the coming months.
The next Ballard school board meeting is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 11, at 6 p.m.