By Alice Gerard
One incumbent was reelected, while another was unseated in a close Board of Education race held on Tuesday at Grand Island High School. The winners were incumbent Jay Grover, who received 842 votes; and Sherry Steffans, who received 831 votes. The two candidates not elected were incumbent Nicole Novak, with 818 votes; and challenger Jim Mulcahy, with 807 votes. Additionally, proposition 1 (the school district’s budget) passed by a vote of 943 to 777; and proposition 2, to authorize purchase of school buses, passed by a vote of 986 to 718.
The total number of voters in the election was 1,742.
Issues that candidates mentioned as being important to the voters were the 5.59% increase in the school district’s tax levy, and mental health issues as a result of the shutdowns and restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Steffans said she emphasized mental health throughout her campaign: “I had no idea of the amount of mental health (help) that was needed. When the pandemic hit, it amplified those needs. I want to help in that area.”
She mentioned one program that would meet in the evening that could be instituted in the high school that would give students “tools that they could use.” These tools would help them to become aware of the problems that they were experiencing, so that they could ask for and receive additional help. The people in the program, who have also experienced issues with anxiety and depression, would then be able to connect the students with outside resources, such as peer support and counseling.
“Another group that I connected with will actually come in and do programs with the kids, such as therapeutic art, and this will be during the school day. The kids can come there during lunch, during their study halls. It gives them another avenue to de-stress about the day,” Steffans explained.
“I’m excited to work with my community,” she added. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’m glad I did it.”
According to Grover, “A lot of thought and time was put into that budget. That process is long, and we’re proud of the budget that we presented, and we’re hoping for a favorable outcome. We feel like we made a lot of smart financial decisions. There were many requests that we really reviewed. We needed to keep our schools strong and support our kids and the needs of our community. We feel good about what we put out there.”
Mulcahy, who previously ran for a seat as a trustee on the Grand Island Board of Education in 1979 and in 2021, focused his attention mainly on the increase in the tax levy.
“I wish that I had known about the other school districts’ rate increases earlier,” he said. “I found out on Saturday that the average hike was under 2%. Ours is 5.59%. We are the huge outlier, and, for the people coming in, it’s been a sore point, especially for the older folks. If I had that information earlier, I would have pushed that point more strongly. If you’re on a fixed budget, 5.59% is a lot of money.”
Novak talked about the challenges faced during the pandemic in the school system: “I’ve had challenges with my own children, with the restrictions that were put on us that we don’t have any control over. I think we’ve taken a lot of good steps forward. We’re putting a lot more into the mental health of our children knowing, coming out of this pandemic hopefully, completely out of it and moving forward, that the kids need some additional support in other areas that, normally, we might not need to have supported.”
Grover talked about the work that he and Novak did during the past few years.
“I think that we’re doing a great job of supporting our kids,” he said. “We’ve expanded our mental health services. We’ve got great programs. We’ve got academies, like the Academy of Finance going. We’ve got partnerships with local colleges, where kids can take college credit-bearing classes. I’m just really looking forward to continuing to support the schools and work together as a community to put the best schools we can together.”