The Beatrice Public Schools Board of Education approved all but one item in a six item budget reduction recommendation at its meeting Monday night.
At the meeting, the board again took up the issue of budget reductions for the 2018-2019 school year. The district approved five items that would hold off on purchasing new textbooks, reducing technology spending and not filling several classified and certified positions. The board decided to remove an item that could have moved the district’s Compass Learning Community program to the high school.
Over the past few months, the Beatrice Public Schools administrative team has been looking for possible budget reductions for the 2018-2019 school year. With the state of Nebraska facing a budget shortfall, superintendent Pat Nauroth laid out reductions aimed at cutting $500,000 from the district’s budget.
The reductions include the central office administration restructuring approved in 2017, which would save an estimated $100,000. The district is also holding off on purchasing textbooks for a year which they estimate would save $106,000. The district plans to reduce its technology spending by $50,000.
BPS would also not fill or reduce 5.5 paraprofessional positions for an estimated savings of $95,000 and not filling or reducing one certified elementary position they estimate would save about $80,000. The report said it is possible that all certified and classified staff reductions would occur through attrition.
The board did remove an item that would have moved the Compass program to Beatrice High School. Compass, an alternate learning environment which aims to have students graduate from high school without attending classes at BHS, is currently located across the highway from the high school. The recommendation said that moving Compass into the high school would save the district $47,000 a year.
During a previous discussion the board had with high school principal Jason Sutter, he said moving Compass to the high school could result in losing more students from the program. Students attend Compass for a variety of reasons, and returning them to the traditional high school environment could lower the program’s 50-some percent graduation rate.
“I am not in support of this document with that left in,” said board member Janet Byars. “I'd like to take a little bit more time to see if maybe we want to keep Compass offsite if we could possibly get a cheaper rent than we're getting right now and do a little more research on it.”
Byars said she couldn’t vote for the document as presented and board member Nancy Sedlacek agreed.
Board member Steve Winter said that all of the choices were difficult ones and said he was torn on the issue of Compass and wished there was a way to know what the number of lost students would be.
“I've made it known before that I'm not crazy about moving Compass back to the high school,” Winter said. “I think, considering the savings, I fully understand why Pat put it in there and I don't have a problem with the thought of that.”
Nauroth said the location of Compass was hard to beat, being so close to the high school and allowing easy access for high school administration to visit.
Board members expressed an interest in looking into different locations for Compass that might cost less than the current rent. The lease for the building will be up at the beginning of June, said director of business affairs John Brazell.
Nauroth said the district’s administration would continue to look for other avenues for reduction. The list of reductions with the Compass item removed passed the board unanimously.
Ron and Terri Sue Mazza started selling the first eggs and produce from Turning Point Farm about a year ago. Around September, Ron started having some serious health issues that, for a lot of people, would spell the end of a new farming venture.
But rather than calling it quits, the Mazzas doubled down on the farm, turning it into a nonprofit under the moniker Food4Hope and are trying to expand their production.
They did some praying, Terri Sue said, seeking divine guidance. Despite Ron’s health issues, neither of them felt like they were supposed to just pack up and head back to Omaha, where they’d moved to their farm in rural Beatrice from four years ago.
“We love this land, but we knew we couldn't do it ourselves,” Terri Sue said. “We knew that the vision we had for it was way bigger than just the two of us.”
About a week later, Curtis and Teressa Barnes—who they’d known from their church in Omaha—opened the Adult and Teen Challenge of the Midlands Blue River Women’s Clinic in Beatrice, an addiction recovery program that would house 12 women trying to turn their lives around.
The Mazzas needed help with their operation and the Barnes’ were looking for an outlet to help the women get set on a schedule. Teressa asked Terri Sue if they’d be interested in having the women help out at the farm, which Terri Sue said elicited an immediate yes.
They started coming right away, she said, every week starting in October of last year. It’s a tremendous blessing Terri Sue said, having the women from Adult and Teen Challenge come in to do pretty much every job you might expect on a farm. They scoop poop from the farm’s cows and 160 chickens, they’ve hauled cement blocks to build the steps to the farm’s new greenhouse and they’ve planted seeds.
That’s when Terri Sue and Ron had an idea that would help both Food4Hope and Adult and Teen Challenge. They talked with the Barnes’ about a partnership that would split profits from any products produced on the farm.
They started out making 400 jars of apple butter a couple of months ago and they’re almost out. They’re now working on plans to make hot pepper sauce, jams, jellies, salsa and non-food items like muscle rubs and body lotions and selling them alongside the women from Adult and Teen Challenge at the Beatrice Farmers Market and along their weekly route to businesses around Beatrice.
“Basically, the venture is a win-win,” Ron said. “A win for us, because we don't have the people power and a win for them because my wife taught them how to can the apple butter and teaching them how to do other products and how to do gardening. So they're learning all the different skills that they can use in this kind of venue or in their own homes.”
With the weather getting warmer, the women from Adult and Teen Challenge were at the farm on Monday, getting ready for planting season. With dozens of chickens roaming the grounds of the farm, they’re getting the garden as chicken-proof as possible.
Unspooling tight coils of chain-link fencing, the women were raising the fence line to keep chickens from enjoying the sprouting plants that will be going in in the coming months.
Some of them, like Shalyn Stauffer, said they’d had experience working on the farm before, but for most of the women, this was a new experience.
“We scoop chicken poop, clean out the chicken coops, cow poop,” said Jennifer Woodard. “We’re planting, building things, we put together tables, We’re moving cement blocks around. Organizing the barn and putting the tarp up for the chickens.”
Even on the colder days of the year, they’re still outside, just dressed in more layers.
This is just one step in the Food4Hope plan, Terri Sue said. They see three steps that they’d like to achieve.
First, growing and selling produce and eggs.
“You want to have hope that the food that you put in your body makes a difference,” she said. “There's a difference between organic spinach and Doritos. That's the hope.”
Then, there’s the work for food aspect. If someone is interested in healthy food but can’t afford it, they’re welcome to come out and work for a couple hours, she said. The more people who work at it, the better production will be and the more people they can effect, she said.
Lastly, they’d like to donate food. They have a dream of donating food boxes to veterans and—in honor of a friend who recently died—to people with cancer.
To make that happen, they’re working to build a post-harvest area, in a building about 20 feet from the patch, where they’ll be able to wash, weigh, package and store the produce so it’s ready to sell.
They still have a way to go, the Mazzas say, but they’d like to be fully self-sufficient within the next two to five years, with orchards and a berry patch providing nearly everything they’d need to sell products that come completely from their property.
This year, they’re germinating kale and hot peppers in the greenhouse and they’ve got a few hundred asparagus crowns that should be harvestable this year, but, Ron said, there are some things they just won’t be able to do themselves.
“We make banana bread,” Ron said. “We're never going to be able to grow bananas out here. It's just not going to happen.”
Beatrice police arrested a man on multiple drug charges following a traffic stop Monday evening.
Shortly after 9 p.m. Monday a Beatrice police officer was driving in the 600 block of North 13th Street when he met a van traveling without its headlights on. The driver of the van had the hazard lights flashing.
The officer conducted a traffic stop, and court documents state the driver, 42-year-old Phillip W. Olin, showed signs of methamphetamine use. The officer also learned Olin's license was expired.
An 8-year-old child was in the front passenger seat, and a male who also showed signs of drug use was in the back.
Olin consented to field sobriety maneuvers and showed signs of impairment. A breath test revealed no alcohol in Olin's system and he said an injury may have contributed to his showing of impairment, court documents state.
A K-9 unit was called to the scene and indicated drugs were in the vehicle. Officers searched the van, and found a box with two baggies that contained a total of 5.25 grams of methamphetamine. Marijuana and two pipes were also recovered from the vehicle.
Olin said the methamphetamine wasn't his, and he didn't know it was in the vehicle.
He was placed under arrest for possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, possession of a controlled substance, child abuse, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and no operator's license.
His bond was set at $7,500 with a 10 percent deposit. Olin’s next hearing is set for April 3.
The Beatrice Area Chamber of Commerce is seeking an executive director following an announcement that Lora Young resigned from the position.
The Chamber announced Tuesday morning that Young had resigned, effective immediately, as director of the chamber of commerce, which advocates for members and works to grow the local culture and economy.
Karen Stohs, Chairman of the Chamber Board of Directors, said the group is currently taking applications for a new director to lead the day-to-day operations of the Chamber.
“We are going to begin seeking and interviewing candidates immediately to fill that position,” she said. “We’re getting that posted on the Nebraska Department of Labor website today and are hoping to draw in candidates from all over Nebraska or anywhere throughout the states, trying to find that candidate that is going to help us grow Beatrice and Gage County.”
Stohs said the Chamber Board hopes to have a director hired in the next month, leading into the summer activity season that includes Homestead Days in June and the Gage County Fair in July.
In the meantime, the Chamber Board’s executive committee, including Stohs, Jeff Davis, Patrick Ethridge, Jim Nelson and Jennifer Vrtiska, will work to fill the void.
Stohs commended Young for her efforts at the Chamber, including working to draw crowds to the area last August for the total solar eclipse.
“She’s done some awesome things in Beatrice and has had some great ideas,” Stohs said. “She was always very forward thinking about looking for those things coming up so she could plan activities in our local area. The eclipse was one huge thing where who knew that would be such an awesome thing for Beatrice? She was fortunate enough to see that and we were able to plan far in advance for that.”
Young was hired by the Chamber in August 2013 after being selected from three finalists.
Before coming to Beatrice, Young spent 10 years with the Norfolk Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau, where she worked directly with the Chamber of Commerce.