A trio of board departees

By Bryan Richardson

Twenty-five years of experience exited the USD 383 school board when Pete Paukstelis, Walt Pesaresi and Beth Tatarko wrapped up their terms with a final board meeting Wednesday.

Since 2001, when Pesaresi was first elected, the three have seen the lows of two elementary schools closing due to declining enrollment. They’ve also seen the recent highs of completing major renovation and constructions projects at the district’s schools.

Being a board member takes a lot of time and doesn’t pay well. In fact, it doesn’t pay at all. That means those who serve must have a strong connection to the education process.

Pesaresi, who has completed three full terms,  said running for a school board position “did cross my mind a couple of times” while he was a teacher at USD 383 (he taught middle school social studies for 16 years until he retired in 1994).

Pesaresi said he got on the board because he wanted to maintain quality in the face of financial struggles of the district.

The board term starts in July for new members, which means the first thing they deal with is developing the budget. That document is approved in August.

“For most school board members, trying to get your arms around the budget process that first year is really taxing,” Paukstelis said. “That’s the first thing that really hits you. Once the budget is done, you can sit back and get a broader review of things.”

In 2001, that has an especially difficult task, Pesaresi said. The district was experiencing enrollment declines and decisions needed to be made on how to address a $2 million budget shortfall.

Pesaresi said those meetings would start around 5 or 6 p.m. and often last until 1 or 1:30 a.m.

“Those were not fun meetings,” he said. “We had several community groups, parents and teachers. We went through the budget line by line.”

The board made the decision to close two elementary schools — Bluemont and Eugene Field— after the 2001-02 school year.

Pesaresi said those were cuts he “didn’t even want to think about,” but represented the only way to address the enrollment declines. “Some of the meetings to close the schools, to be honest, got a bit nasty and hateful,” he said. “But you had to forget about that and do what was best.”

Tatarko was Lee Elementary’s site council chair during that time. Over the years, she also served as PTO president at Lee and did a stint on the district budget committee. “I volunteered for just about every volunteer position,” Tatarko said.

Tatarko said a school board run “was on my mind” at that time. “Those positions really prepare you for running on the board,” she said of the volunteer work.

Tatarko and Paukstelis both started on the board in 2005. With three children in the school system, Tatarko said she felt she had a reasonable view on what was happening in the schools.

Paukstelis said he felt he had a lot to contribute to the board. He also wanted to do his part to ensure things would be good for his family.

“My oldest son was getting ready to start kindergarten,” he said. “I figured if I was going to help the school district, I wanted to do it sooner rather than later.”

A board tenure was something Paukstelis didn’t anticipate around the time he was graduating from Manhattan High in 1988. “I was going to be a national level sports broadcaster in 1988,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t have been back in Manhattan much. Let’s just say I’m happy with the way things worked out.”

The board voted in 2006 to reopen Bluemont due to the increased enrollment that Fort Riley’s troop level increase provided. Soon, renovations and more space were needed to continue accommodating the enrollment increases.

A big highlight for all three was the $97.5 million bond issue passed by voters in 2008.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to positively affect as many people as I was through the bond program,” Paukstelis said. “That’s a pretty big deal for me personally.”

The total elementary building capacity increased by 586 students and the high building capacity increased by 300 students. “Not only did we add a complete elementary if you add up all the added classrooms, we brought all the buildings up to modern standards,” Pesaresi said.

Tatarko served as president during the development stages of the bond issue. She said it involved getting the voters on board to support “a great investment.”

The bond issue passed with 69 percent approval. “We are so lucky,” Tatarko said. “That is amazing for the Manhattan and Ogden voters to support the bond the way they did.”

Tatarko didn’t run for re-election after her first term ended in 2009. “Mostly just because of the time commitment involved as a board member,” she said. “I really admire Pete and Walt and Dave (Colburn, current board president) for the many years on the board.”

However, Tatarko found her way back on the board when transportation director Doug Messer resigned to take his current position. The board selected her to finish Messer’s term in May 2012.

“I came back on at a really good time,” she said. “They needed someone to step in and be knowledgeable of the process.”

All of the board members talked about a sense of honor they felt from contributing to the community in this capacity. “It’s extremely humbling to serve,” Tatarko said. “I know that sounds corny, but it really is humbling.”

Pesaresi, a product of USD 383 education like Paukstelis, said he appreciates the voters allowing him to serve all these years. “Never in my wildest dreams when I was a kid going through the system that I would be on the school board or even teach in the district,” Pesaresi said. “That was such an honor.”

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