By Collin Anderson
The Lincoln County School District board room was filled to the brim during its regular board of trustees meeting last Thursday, as the agenda included an action item on the pay status of former C.O. Bastian principal and Pahranagat Valley football coach Ken Higbee.
Higbee has been charged with a 225-count criminal complaint alleging illegal use of C.O. Bastian funds. Higbee has pleaded not guilty to the charges and the case awaits trial. Since December 2015, Higbee has been on administrative leave with pay, but that status was changed to leave without pay, effective October 1 of this year, according to a letter submitted to the school board by Higbee’s attorney Lanny Waite.
During the Nov. 9 board meeting, Higbee and Waite, who is an associate of attorney Bret Whipple, approached the board to lay bare their case. As suggested by his lawyer, Higbee was silent as Waite spoke.
The lawyer said that the case brought against his client was unjust and wrong. He brought up that Lincoln County was the poorest county in the state and those small towns have to stick together if they intend on surviving out here. Most of the comments made by Waite indicated that the mistakes that were being blamed on his client were the fault of the previous administrators and that there was a long-standing history of funds being paid from C.O. Bastian’s budget for use throughout the school district. He said that both the district attorney and the head detective on the case were inexperienced and that they were not doing their jobs correctly. Waite urged the board not to add to the mistakes that had been made in the investigation.
Waite provided a letter to the board claiming board member Peggy Rowe harbors a personal disdain for Higbee and a desire to “take him down,” his letter stated.
Prior to the board taking up the agenda item, Rowe had recused and excused herself from the proceedings.
Retired school district principal Roberta Park also provided a letter to the board and gave public comment in support of Higbee.
Her letter discussed how sharing materials between schools were commonplace during her nearly 15 years there. “Little districts cannot be run like large districts,” the letter stated. “We share materials; labor; teachers would volunteer to handle more responsibilities to make things work in each school.”
Park added this was important to point out, “because at any time anyone with an axe to grind could have probably done some damage because it wasn’t done perfectly.”
Her letter concluded that the district should “think long and hard” about where it is going in terms of “fairness and impartiality.”
As the board discussed the issue of pay for Higbee, board member Wade Poulsen attempted to persuade the board that they should consider Higbee innocent until proven guilty. Both board members Carolyn Harr and Pat Kelly believed that the school district needed to look after itself while the investigation continues.
Kelly continued to say that if Higbee is found not guilty, then the board would be more than willing to pay him his back pay. Poulsen motioned that Higbee receives his pay, but was not seconded. Harr then motioned that he continue without pay, which was seconded. Harr and Kelly voted in favor, with Poulsen voting against, and the motion was passed.