Vickers: ‘The board is dishonest’
Published: Thursday, November 29th, 2012
If there’s one thing in the world Larry Vickers loves to do, it is teaching.
Vickers, who retired after 34 years of teaching math, social studies and reading at Hermosa, joined the Custer School Board to help students and the future of the schools. But when it came time for the vote to close the rural schools, Vickers couldn’t do that to the students on the east side of the county. Instead, he cast his vote against the motion, flipped down his nameplate and resigned from the board. A large portion of the 40-person audience followed him out.
“I could see maybe Fairburn being closed since it’s closer to Hermosa than Spring Creek, but financially, there was no justification,” he said. “They are paying their dues. The closing of those two schools has been on the agenda for years.”
During the meeting, Vickers asked Custer District Supt. Scott Lepke for numbers on the cost to run the schools.
“It has never come up for discussion and I resent that,” he said in the meeting. “A lot of the things this board does are underhanded and dishonest.”
Vickers put the numbers together by himself the morning of the Nov. 12 meeting. He split the general fund, $5,452,787, among the five schools and special education department. Nearly $2.1 million went to the Custer Elementary School, the Custer Jr./Sr. High School would receive a little over $2.2 million while $1,065,196 went to Hermosa, $76,085 to Fairburn and Spring Creek would receive $44,383.
“I put those figures together in one morning, but had been asking for the numbers all year,” Vickers said. “I’m sure a lot of community members wanted those numbers, too.”
Vickers said he also questioned government funds which come to the district, but found the board — and Lepke — unwilling to talk about it. According to Vickers, government revenue totaled $9,672,311, an average of $11,246 per student.
“They were pushing to close those rural schools for years,” he said. “There’s just no justification. Lepke is just (Tim) Creal (former Custer superintendent) with a different name.”
At the June meeting, the last for former board president Jon Dahlstrom and board member Walker Witt, Vickers said Lepke’s position was up for evaluation in executive session.
“We were there up until midnight when we got to Scott’s evaluation,” he said. “His contract renewal was not on the agenda, but it was thrown in without ever addressing it. It wasn’t in the minutes, either. Three out of four board members didn’t know if we extended his contract or not. That’s the honesty and transparency I could not stand. Don’t think they didn’t have that planned.”
Vickers’s continued frustration with the board and its alleged dishonesty lead to his resignation, as did his resignation from teaching.
“My contract had me teaching math and social studies but I was being thrown into teaching reading,” he said. “I was told if I didn’t teach it, it would be insubordination.”
Vickers filed a grievance with the principal and talked to Dahlstrom about it.
“He said the board felt it had to back the administrator,” he said. “Not back what’s right, but the administrator. That was the point when I said no more. I was done.”
Vickers decided to run for a spot on the board in 2010 on a platform of change and bringing awareness to teachers and their jobs.
“Buildings don’t teach kids — teachers do,” he said during a 2010 interview. “We should get back to educating instead of entertaining.”
Vickers believed the four-day school plan should have been opened for real and honest communication, as well as encouraging the public to attend the meetings and getting the correct information to board members.
“Call it micro-managing if you will, but I don’t know how you can make an informed decision if you don’t really know the facts,” he said.
Vickers was able to accomplish two things during his time on the board: moving the open forum session to the beginning of the meeting and bringing in new administration.
“I’m not sure it’s going to change anything, but it was needed,” he said. “I tried to get the four-day school issue on the agenda again, but that didn’t happen. It’s not on there as board policy, but according to the board, the integrity of the structural day will continue to be safeguarded. How do you do that?”
One of the things that frustrated Vickers was the fact that students were not in the classroom as much as they should have been.
“How is taking kids out of class in Hermosa and taking them to a pep rally for homecoming safeguarding the school day? How is carving pumpkins for Custer State Park part of it?” he said. “My biggest complaint is that I didn’t have my kids enough. I wanted to teach.”
After three years of Vickers teaching math (grades six to eight), his students had a 90 percent proficiency level when they left Hermosa.
“They were trying to push interest periods (during which students get to pick what they do) on me for the last periods of the day so I couldn’t teach my kids,” he said. “When they came back at me and threw that at me it was frustrating.”
When the motion was made to close Fairburn and Spring Creek schools, Vickers didn’t understand why a board member on his first-year term made the motion.
“Why is it the board chairmen, who seconded the motion last year, didn’t make the motion? Anne (Sandvig), who has been on the board a long time, didn’t make the motion. The two first-year members made the motion and seconded it,” Vickers said.
According to Vickers, both Martin and Webster went to his place when they were first elected and talked about school board topics and shared information.
“I think Alan was duped in it and Tom was told over and over,” he said. “I thought Alan and I would work well together since we were both teachers. I guess not.”
From the 2009-10 school year to the current budget, Vickers found the superintendent’s office reduced by .035 percent and the business office reduced by .074 percent while the schools were reduced much more. The custodial department was reduced by 21.4 percent, principals were reduced by nearly 19 percent while the library was reduced by 19.7 percent, technology by 14.8 percent, special education by 13.3 percent and co-curricular activities cut nearly 9 percent.
“It just hurts,” he said. “The kids are the ones who suffer. (School board members) Brian (Lintz) did a heck of a job talking when he said our mission statement is to educate each and every kid to their highest potential. Not where they live, not where they’re from. If it’s not, why do it?”
Vickers felt the board was kept busy with extra readings and new committees so they wouldn’t have time to look through the budget numbers.
“There’s just dishonesty there,” he said. “I don’t trust them and that’s frustrating.”
Now that Vickers has resigned from the board, he is looking forward to spending his time retired. His home on his ranch, located a half mile from the northeast corner of Custer State Park, keeps him busy. He recently finished a barn made from hand-cut and peeled logs.
“I can always find something to do between riding my horses or fixing something,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do what I love to do and that was working with kids.”
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