Beef To Schools program discussed for Hot Springs School District
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – The Hot Springs School Board had only two main items under New Business for their Monday, Feb. 10 meeting agenda – to accept the resignation of High School Principal Mary Weiss and then to rescind the renewal of her contract passed at last month’s meeting.
Board President Bob Preuss read the resignation letter on behalf of Weiss, which simply stated: “Please accept my resignation letter for High School Principal and Student Council Sponsor for 2020 – 2021 school year. The Hot Springs Bison has been my family for 20 years and I will never forget all the wonderful memories. These walls have helped raise me and my children and for that I will always be grateful. I wish the best for the Bison.”
Following the unanimous acceptance of her resignation, the board then unanimously rescinded the non-renewal of her contract which was passed by a 5-1 vote at a Jan. 16 special meeting. At that meeting, all three of the school’s principals’ contracts were not renewed for the 2020-21 school year as part of a board-instigated restructuring of the school’s administration to reduce the number from three down to two staff members.
With her resignation, Weiss will not be applying for one of the two open principal positions for next year. Grade 3-8 Principal Liz Baker and Grade K-2/Special Education Director Kelly Bibrey have both indicated they plan to apply.
At the beginning of the meeting during Public Participation, audience member Misty Summers-Walton spoke and reminded the board of her requests at the Jan. 16 special meeting when she asked the board to consider videotaping their meetings to allow for more of the public to see their meetings. She also pointed out a pair of school board policies which support granting access and participation by the public through such things as an advisory committee.
Summers-Walton also asked what was the best way for the public to contact the board members to share their concerns. She said she had tried email and talking to them but had been unsuccessful in getting her concerns addressed.
Board member Frances Stokes responded and acknowledged that she had received several emails but chose not to respond to any of them, and justified it by saying she is “just one person” and can’t make any decisions on her own.
Summers-Walton said she did not contact Stokes to have her make any decisions but simply wanted to get her personal opinion and feedback. Stokes then said “there is a lot to be said for face-to-face,” to which Summers-Walton responded by saying that an in-person meeting is what she requested of her in her email.
Following Public Participation, the board heard a number of presentations, including one by Custer County rancher Tif Robertson who is the volunteer who spearheaded the Beef To Schools program at the Custer School District.
The board first heard about the latest on bringing the Beef To School program to Hot Springs at their Jan. 13 meeting when local faculty member Heather Coleman gave a presentation on the program, which she and Business Manager Dennis Fischer had been working on together.
Robertson elaborated on how she helped get it started in Custer and said it begins with a single volunteer to coordinate it and secure the donated local beef and then schedule it for processing. Following the model first established by the Wall School District through Wall Meats, and also the Hulett, Wyo., School District, Robertson said it should be fairly simply to get it going in Hot Springs.
In many ways, Hot Springs is ahead of the curve due to out-of-the-gate support by local ranchers including the aforementioned Heather Coleman and her husband, as well as FFA instructor Tanna White and her husband, who have both already volunteered to donate the first two beef cattle. The estimated cash value of such a donation is about $1,000 per animal.
Robertson added that the overall goal of the program is to get local ranchers to donate the beef in the first couple of years, and then over time, the school can use the money saved through the donated beef to eventually buy the local beef from the local processor.
Currently the biggest obstacle is finding a meat processor who has the proper certification and available time to butcher the beef and deliver to the school’s food service. Business Manager Dennis Fischer said in conversations he has had with the owner of Wall Meats, there are some advantages for the Hot Springs and Custer Schools to work together on getting the beef butchered and delivered.
Other presentations were also given by a group of FFA students and also the high school student council. FFA members Shelby Nellen, Rhiannon Allen and Will Kuhl updated the board on some recent club happenings which included their first-ever career fair held in Case Auditorium last fall and also the fact that 21 of their 49 members qualified to compete at the recent state FFA competition.
Student Council members Ava Krush, Taylor Pulscher, Brynn Thompson and Sydney Bogner also addressed the board and described their recent Winter Spirit Week, as well as their upcoming plans to host a blood drive and sell Valentine’s Day carnations as a fundraiser.
During Board Remarks at the end of the meeting, President Preuss gave an update on the new Superintendent Search. He said a special meeting will be held at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, March 4, where interested people can attend and offer their assistance by becoming part of an advisory committee to help screen the top candidates. Preuss said he would like to see a variety of people be a part of the process, to include community members as well as all levels of school staff.
An all-day process on March 11 would then entail meetings, tours and interviews of the top candidates recommended by the search firm with the board likely extending an offer to one of the applicants by the following night on March 12.