By Robert Dreyer, Lt. Colonel, USAF retired and Cherokee Village and Highland School District Taxpayer
I have owned property in Cherokee Village for over 40 years but I was born and raised in Rushville, Neb., a small town (population 1,228) 100miles east of the Wyoming border and 20 miles south of the South Dakota border. The area was a rural dry-land farming and ranching area, similar to the communities in the Highland School District. Trees were sparse but wheat, corn, oats and good hay were plentiful and good people lived there (like the people around the Highland area). We had no swimming pool, but our rival town, Gordon (population 2,150) had one, 15 miles from Rushville. I went to school my formative years in Rushville, attending grade school in the two-story Cravath Elementary building, which was build in 1939 and is still used today to educate elementary students. I attended high school in Rushville in the two-story high school building built in 1926 which is now a middle school educating students after a consolidation with the Gordon School District in 2006. The current Gordon-Rushville High School (in Gordon), also is a two-story building built in 1922. I was a student-athlete in high school, playing football and wrestling. Several distinguished people at-tended/graduated from the Rushville School District from these “old school buildings.” To list a few, (1) there was the Republican U.S. Senator from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel, who served as President Obama’s Secretary of Defense from February 2013 to February 2015; (2) there was a 3 star U.S. Army general, Lt. General Charles W. Brown. He graduated from Rushville High School at age 15, joined the Army when he was of age and went on to be-come a 3 star general and was regard-ed as a brilliant logistician. He retired in 1990. His last assignments were at the Pentagon, dealing with Middle East Policy, and he was equally respected in the Middle East among Israeli as well as the Arab leaders; (3) there was also John Gottschalk, who graduated from Rushville High and went on to become a newspaper publisher, and president and CEO of the well respected Oma-ha World Herald (circulation of over301,000) from 1985 until his retirement in 2008. (The Omaha World Her-ald is currently owned by Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway); and finally (4)there is Kelly Stouffer, another Rush-ville High grad, who became an NFL quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks and is now an ESPN TV college football analyst. General Brown returned to his ranch near Rushville after retirement, Kelly Stouffer returned home and owns a ranch near Rushville now and wasthe head coach for the Rushville HighSchool football team for 3 years, andJohn Gottschalk contributed hundredsof thousands of dollars to refurbish theModisett Ball Park in Rushville (whichconducted a Milwaukee Braves base-ball school and major league try-outsfrom 1954-59 and a New York Yankeesbaseball school and try-outs in 1963in Rushville) with seating for 1,000fans. (I actually played American Le-gion baseball on this field in the 60s).The point being is that great studentsand very successful people were devel-oped in these “old school buildings.” Itwasn’t the buildings or the administra-tors that were instrumental in the livesof these successful people and greatcontributors to our society; it was theteachers!Further, I don’t think the prestigiousIvy League universities would be im-pressed if you told them some of theirbuildings were too old to produce top-notch graduates. For instance, Har-vard’s Massachusetts Hall was built in1720 and has served as a lecture hall,dormitory, etc. in the past and in 2018underwent renovation to include ADAcompliance by installing an elevator,improving HVAC, upgrading the roof,etc. Harvard states the building’s resil-ience is due to meticulous preservationand maintenance, spanning centuries.(Get the hint?). Or how about Yale’sConnecticut Hall, built in 1752, whichserved as a dormitory for 200 years andis now a lecture hall for the Depart-ment of Philosophy? Or take BrownUniversity’s University Hall, built in1770, and is still being used today.Again, it’s not the fancy new buildingsthat develop our students into success-ful and responsible citizens. In fact,I venture to say the students at theseIvy League schools are very proud oftheir “old buildings.” It’s rather qualityand high expectation teachers who arecritical for our students to achieve theirtrue potential.During my 22 years in the Air Force,my three daughters attended variouspublic schools in various countries andstates. These included schools in NewHampshire, the countries of Turkey andAustralia, and the states of Nebraskaand Alaska. My oldest daughter attend-ed kindergarten in Portsmouth, NewHampshire, first and second grade ona Turkish base near Adana Turkey,(her DOD school house on the basewas an single story old “Quonset hut”with interior walls to divide the class-es), attended third and fourth grade inan Australian Public School near Mel-bourne, in a neighborhood school shecould walk to, attended fifth and sixthgrade in a school in Papillion, Neb. sheagain could walk to, and then juniorhigh and high school in the AnchorageAlaska Public Schools. My two young-er daughters attended grade schools inNebraska and Alaska and junior highsand high schools in Alaska.We as parents and the schools theyattended always emphasized academicsfirst and extra-curricular activities sec-ondarily. Two of my daughters were onthe high school honor rolls all years oftheir high school years largely becauseof the high quality of teachers they hadwho had high expectations of their stu-dents. All three daughters played musi
cal instruments in school andparticipated in sports (soccer,volleyball, tennis, and ice hock-ey). My oldest daughter was onthe varsity volleyball team andwas the varsity soccer goalie inhigh school and at the DivisionIII college she attended. Myyoungest daughter was also onthe varsity high soccer and icehockey teams in high schooland the women’s ice hockeygoalie at Brown University andwent on to win a Bronze Med-al in the 2006 Olympics in Tu-rin, Italy. Studious, hard work-ing students equate to smart,good athletes. I am convincedsmart, well educated studentsin our public schools are crit-ical to their future successin life, be it work, athletics,parenting, etc. But academicsmust come first, before sports,band, clubs, other activities ora 900 seat auditorium. Schoolsshould be in the Educationbusiness, not the Entertain-ment business!. The key toexcellent student achievementis outstanding teachers, not afancy new building.In a recent editorial in theSpring River Chronicle, Con-way Spurlock stated the “top12 highest paid non-teachingemployees were paid a com-bined salary of $1,036,456”.That’s an average of $86,371per non-teaching employee!Remember that $86,371 fig-ure. Mr. Spurlock further stat-ed “our next 10 highest paidnon-teaching positions drew acombined salary of $646,000”.That’s an average of $64,600per non-teaching positions inthe second tier. So If I combinethe salaries paid for non-teach-ing positions in both tiers I geta total of $1,682,456 spreadover the top 22 non-teach-ing administrative positions.That’s an average of $76, 475per the top 22 non-teachingpositions. One has to wonderwhy we need 22 administrativepositions for a school districtthe size of Highland, especiallywhen we only pay our teacherswho are “in the trenches” actu-ally teaching students, an aver-age of only $37,419 accordingto NICHE at www.niche.com/k12/highland-high-school-hardy-ar. Who in their rationalmind can justify paying ourschool administrators overdouble what we are paying ourteachers on average?Let’s look a minute andcompare data from the NICHEwebsite for Highland HighSchool as compared to theGordon-Rushville High Schoolin Nebraska. Most disturbingare the differences in profi-ciency levels of graduating stu-dents. Highland High School’sproficiency in Reading is 47percent compared to 75 per-cent at Gordon-Rushville’sHigh School! Highland HighSchool’s proficiency in Math isan appalling 38 percent com-pared to Gordon-RushvilleHigh School’s 65 percent .Per the NICHE website, againthe average teacher salary atHighland High is $37, 419while the average teacher sal-ary at Gordon-Rushville Highis $60,346. Why is that? Isthe Gordon-Rushville area amore prosperous area thanthe Highland area? NO! TheMedian Household Income forHighland is $42,969 is actual-ly higher than Gordon-Rush-ville’s Median HouseholdIncome of $42,000. And theMedian Home Value of theHighland area is $86,500 com-pared to the Gordon-Rushvillearea Median Home Value of$66,400. So the question is:What is Gordon-Rushvilledoing right to have high stu-dent proficiency compared toHighland’s and how are theyable to pay their teachers near-ly $23,000 more per year? Isurmise the Gordon-RushvilleSchool District is being a goodsteward of their taxpayers’monies, maintaining their “oldschool buildings” as needed,renovating current buildings,adding new additions as af-fordable and not having anoverabundance of unnecessaryhigh-paying administrative po-sitions at the expense of teach-ers’ salaries.I did substitute teach at theHighland High School peri-odically for a couple of years.I also attended the secondschool tour for the proposednew high school on Oct. 27,2022. During the tour, I wouldagree the high school needsa new shop building for thestudents. During my teach-ing time there, I also notedthe lack of safety and securityfor the students and staff. (Mymilitary training, many yearsas a safety expert in the mil-itary and in the civilian worldand while working for theState of Alaska as a “first re-sponder” always cause me tothink “What if this happens?).There are numerous safety is-sues that could be corrected ata fraction of the cost of a newhigh school. I counted sevenseparate door entrances thatare unsecured as students passbetween classes on open-airwalkways between buildingsthus allowing potential shoot-ers to get inside the school or totake pot-shots from afar. Thesewalkways should be enclosedwith hardened walls, bullet-proof windows and/or lightingand emergency exits. Manyof the windows in the schooldon’t have drapes or shadedglass to prevent a shooter fromtargeting the image of individ-uals in the window, while thepotential shooter is sitting ina wooded area adjacent to theschool or in a vehicle. Not tomention, there is no randominspection of student back-packs for weapons as studentsarrive for school to ensure stu-dents aren’t bringing weaponsinto school.I took the school tour onOct. 27, and after some al-lowed discussion, I met collec-tively and privately with somemembers of the School Board(Dr. Austin Gilbreath, ReneeClay-Circle, and Board Pres-ident Jason Rhodes). I com-pared the schools I attended inNebraska versus Highland andthe difference in quality edu-cation between the schools,notable graduates, the similar-ities of the rural communitiesand my concerns for the safetyof the students. Ms. Clay-Cir-cle and Mr. Rhodes said I madevalid points.Where do we go fromhere? I believe now is not thetime to construct a new highschool and a 900 seat audito-rium in hopes some fantasymiracle will occur and buildinga new high school will give ourstudents a superior educationthat will serve them well forthe rest of their lives. Rath-er, we should greatly increasethe salaries of our teachers toattract high caliber teachersand reduce the plethora ofhigh paid administrators. Weshould regroup as a commu-nity and work together to de-velop a feasible and affordableplan to remodel our existinghigh school and not plunge thecommunity taxpayers, home-owners, and renters into $30million of debt for the next 28years. Please vote NO againstthe Highland School DistrictMillage Tax Increase Feb. 7-14,2023.