The Houston Public School Board met at 6 p.m. on Thursday, February 16 in the Houston Public High School library. In attendance were Superintendent Abraham and board members Norlien, Carlson, Stillin, and Wilson. Board members Bonner NS Krage came to the meeting later in the evening. Following the pledge and agenda approval, the board opened the meeting to public comment. Larry Gaustad spoke to the council regarding the naming of the Houston football field in honor of a former teacher. The board replied that they are currently in policy meetings to determine the proper way to go about naming facilities, and Superintendent Abraham made note of it being on the agenda for discussion tonight. Gaustad also questioned the process for the naming of memorial tennis courts by Houston elementary, and Superintendent Abraham explained that the courts had been named by an outside group before being returned to the school.
The board then moved on to approve all consent items, which includes minutes, bill payments, and three contracts, and moved on to the single discussion item regarding the Strategic Planning Committee, which met in a special meeting on February 9. The discussion centered around what questions, following special meeting and analysis from the board, would be sent out to the district in the form of bullet points. The board stressed the need for open ended questions, but Superintendent Abraham warned that the school might not have the manpower to receive a large number of unique responses.
“We can’t do it all,” Superintendent Abraham cautioned, “we have to really look at honing where we should put our efforts, where we should spend our time to really build on those strengths.”
The board resolved to have Superintendent Abraham “tweak” the bullet points and also send the board the wording of the questions for approval, who will reply by Monday, February 20. The board then moved on to Old Business, approving the “tight” schedule for the 2018-2019 school year on a 4-1 vote. The “tight” schedule cuts down on vacation time during the year, but results in a shorter year overall. The board also approved nine school policies upon second reading and moved on to new business, looking over a draft to a new school Naming Rights & Memorials Policy. Superintendent Abraham explained the reasoning of combining Naming Rights & Memorials into one policy, citing that much of the policies were the same in regard to both. The biggest discussion came from a section regarding memorials, where past memorials had caused emotional distress for students seeing the memorial every day before school. The board struggled with personal and emotional pitfalls regarding naming and memorials, recognizing the difficulty of reaching a decision that will satisfy all sides. Board member Krage expressed worry that putting in place a policy for memorials might open up a “big can”, to which Superintendent Abraham replied, “Are we opening up a can, or are we finally providing procedures and guidelines for a can that’s already there?” The board had a lengthy discussion regarding how and why a school district property can be named after an individual, and resolved to further research and debate the issue before approving a new policy.
Larry Gaustad was recognized from the board to speak from the audience: he mentioned that many former students want the school to move forward with a current naming project for the football field, and expressed a desire for people to “grow up” in regard to allowing the field naming rights to go forward. Gaustad left the meeting before it concluded, following short announcements from Superintendent Abraham. The board then discussed a Caledonia Co-op agreement: Caledonia is asking that Houston enter into a cooperative similar to the one they currently have with Spring Grove. Superintendent Abraham expressed concerns on the agreement as-is, and the board decided to engage in further discussion with Caledonia and surveys within the Houston district to make sure both the students and the district are getting what is needed. The board also agreed for the Finance Committee to hear in-person presentations from any of the five auditing firms they sent letters to for auditing services. The meeting adjourned at 7:29 p.m., and will meet in the Houston High library for its next regular meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 2, 2017.