If you are looking for a sign, you will soon see two. An issue over two new digital display signs ignited controversy at the October meeting of the Amery School Board.
Board member Char Glenna expressed that she had looked over board vouchers the previous Friday evening and stated that she had a question about one specific check in the amount of $40,125 for electronic LED signs. Glenna said. “I guess I wasn’t aware of the signs and I was just wondering if that was something that was discussed before?”
District Administrator James Kuchta explained that the check was payment for digital display boards that had been discussed last spring as well as being mentioned in the board update. Glenna responded by asking, “Did we have a board vote on that?” Kuchta replied, “No because that is something that is within what we approve in our maintenance budget. If you go back to our early October cabinet meeting, George Sigsworth had reported out and I had those notes in there as well. It has been discussed on occasion over the months.”
Board member Keith Anderson asked, “So what is the cost of the signs?” Kuchta responded, “$40,000 for each sign.” Anderson said, “so $80,000.” To which Kuchta replied, “$40,000 a piece. It is built within the maintenance budget we have for the year. Once again, I did ask if there were any questions ahead of time so this is a surprise to have the discussion here.” Glenna said, “I just wanted the discussion here because it is on the agenda. A $40,000 check is out of the ordinary.” Kuchta said, “Not highly out of the ordinary.”
Kuchta went on to give information on the signs explaining that they will be similar to ones that Clayton, Cameron and Rice Lake school districts have. They will be digital signs surrounded by brick and concrete. They will display upcoming school events and promote the “Like a Warrior” campaign. He said that bids were taken through the district’s maintenance department. That department along with members of the communications and athletic departments worked on design of the signs for months.
Anderson then said “But I didn’t see anything, Chelsea did you see anything?” After asking board President Chelsea Whitley if she had seen anything about the design of the signs or bids, he went on to ask board members Dale Johnson and Erin Hoskings. “I do remember us having this discussion,” said Hoskings. Whitley then added, “I did not see what the signs looked like, I remember it being referred to a committee.” Johnson said, “I didn’t realize we were ready to move forward on them. I remember talking about the signs, I wasn’t aware of the complete cost.”
Kuchta said, “It is something that we considered an administrative decision.” He then went on to say to Anderson, “Clearly you want to make administrative decisions.”
There was banter back and forth between Anderson and Kuchta about the policy of purchases over $50,000 needing board approval. In Kuchta’s mind each sign was $40,000, which would be less that the required amount needing board approval. Anderson’s thoughts were that because there were two signs, it was $80,000, which would need the school board’s blessing.
“This is how purchases have been done for many years, but if you would like cancellation of the project that can be done,” said Kuchta. Next Anderson made a motion to cancel the project considering the district just borrowed $355,000 for security. Glenna wondered if maybe that $80,000 could be put somewhere else other than signs.
Anderson said, “My frustration right now is not seeing any presentation or see what the bids looked like. Are there other signs out there that are cheaper? It is still something that as a member of the board, I knew nothing about.”
Kuchta explained that he relied on the expertise of the people working in the maintenance and communications departments and he went on to respond to Anderson by saying, “You should have known if you read your board updates. The information is in there.” Anderson’s response to that was there was no presentation. “It would be nice when we purchase something to see what we are doing,” said Anderson.
Hoskings said, “We do not need to see something on every purchase and again we are relying on the,” when she was cut off by Anderson who once again stated, “This is an $80,000 purchase.”
Kuchta addressed Anderson and said, “This purchase is I believe is .02% of our budget, so if you would like every purchase of that amount to be brought for your approval that can be done.” Anderson again said that the board did not know the signs were happening, and that they only knew because of the voucher review.
Things looked liked they were starting to move on when Whitley asked Glenna if she was ready to approve the monthly vouchers to which Glenna said, “I approved all of the vouchers except for that one. Personally I am not ready to approve that for signs. I would like to look at it further before we go on.”
“It is in the maintenance budget, it was approved by George our director, it is well within the budget, it was planned for since last year, it was considered for end of the year purchases and delayed because of adjustments to the signs. There has been a lot of planning that has gone into it. Time is of the essence due to weather and the concrete work,” said Kuchta.
After that Kuchta wanted to say to the public, “I feel set up because I asked if there were any questions and I feel to put on this display here is really an embarrassment. There have been discussions and there have been things sent in writing about the signs, so we have had communications on this on multiple levels.”
Whitley remembered discussion of the signs at Buildings and Grounds meeting during the summer. She also had recollection of discussions of placement of the signs as well as remembering the costs of each sign being between $35,000-$40,000. Johnson said, “I remember talking about the signs, I do not remember a cost estimate, but as long as it is covered by the budget.”
Anderson wanted to know why there were two separate invoices, to which Kuchta replied, “Because there are two separate signs.” This continued the debate on whether this was an $80,000 purchase or two purchases at $40,000 until Hoskings said, “What do we need to do to move forward?”
In the end, a motion made by Glenna to approve all vouchers except for the one, was seconded by Anderson, and approved by all. Once that was taken care of, the motion to approve the lone voucher was made by Hoskings. Whitley seconded it saying, “I do recall seeing the signs and I think they will be a great assist to the schools and the community.” The tense banter back and forth concerning the check continued until finally the check was approved by a vote of three to two. Votes for yes came from Whitley, Johnson and Hoskings. Votes against approval came from Glenna and Anderson.
Once the meeting was able to move on, other business included the board approving resignations from: Linnae Seaman, Van Driver; Allen Carlson, Bus Driver and Shayne Curtis, 8th Grade Girls Basketball Coach. New contracts were approved for Linnae Seaman, Clubhouse Aide; Nicole Swanson, Van Driver and Levi Busse, 8th Grade Girls Basketball Coach.
The board also approved early college credit requests presented by Shawn Doerfler, short term borrowing, and the levy and mill rate.
Discussed and stressed was that cell phones are not at all allowed in the locker rooms. If anyone has concerns about this taking place they should report it to administration.
The board then went into closed session. When they reconvened in open session it was stated that the board agreed to consult with an attorney concerning open meeting laws and open meeting violations as well as consult with the attorney and get in writing an opinion on Wisconsin Statute 118.24 sub 1 and 6 on employee contracts. It was also decided to consult DPI to obtain written opinion for guidance for reporting wages.