Board discusses bus driver shortage, WY-TOPP testing issues

LUSK – The Niobrara County School District heard discussion about a bus driver shortage and issues faced by staff and students with the Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress (WY-TOPP) at Monday’s April 26 regular meeting. 

During the meeting, designated as a work session, Superintendent George Mirich told the board the district was in dire straits in their attempts to find bus drivers. 

“There hasn’t been a single applicant in six months,” Mirich said.

Mirich asked the board to consider advertising a full-time benefitted position for a bus driver. He explained his intention to hire a bus driver who would also fill-in where needed, likely as an aiding custodian for the school district to fulfill the 40-hour requirements of a full-
time employee.

Mirich pointed out two of the current bus drivers are substitute bus drivers who were both called out of retirement to aid the school district by driving school buses. 

The board agreed to consider the matter and suggested moving forward with the process. Mirich noted the current bus drivers would have the opportunity to hire on as full-time employees as well. 

Also discussed at the meeting were complications created by the WY-TOPP testing process. 

Middle school English teacher Lori Lyons described the test as a “bear of a test,” citing the massive amount of time it took for students to complete the test, and the immense number of multi-part questions on the tests.

Other educators present cited issues with the computer software used for the testing and the large amount of time it took for students to complete the exams.

“This isn’t what we agreed to,” Mirich said of the tests. 

Lyons and other educators said they would be reaching out to the state to address issues faced by the testing process and application. 

Lyons also informed the board the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) student participants would likely be approaching the board at their next meeting to request support for their national event.

“We do want to say thank you for supporting us,” Lyons said. “I had twelve kids that qualified for nationals in various events.”

Lyons said much of the group had prepared projects to be presented in an in-person format, only to learn the national competition will be held online in a virtual setting. 

This did not deter the students from trying new things and putting together projects which would work with the virtual format. 

A caveat to being able to compete in the national event is that students will have to pay to participate. Lyons said the group had been doing fundraisers throughout the year but are still working to make sure they can all compete. 

The FBLA students will be hosting a fundraiser shrimp boil during the Mustard Seed event at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Lusk on Wednesday, May 12 from 5-7 p.m.

Later in the meeting, Mirich said he had been approached about funding by the Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) club sponsor. The FCCLA group also asked the board to provide funding to help pay for their trip to nationals, which is planned as an in-person event. 

Mirich told the board the cost per student to attend is approximately $2,130. The group requested $700 as they had been given $700 when they attended two years ago. The board said they would consider the request, but also wished to set a precedence with the funding, so clubs would have an idea of what they could plan to budget from the board. 

Trustees Loren Heth, Candy Dooper and Jeff Miller expressed the importance of the board to support the students who have worked diligently to be able to attend these national events and represent the school district. 

Another item discussed was the industrial arts career and technical education portion of the school district. 

Mirich said the school district is currently funded by the state for less than one-tenth of a teacher, but the district currently has two and a half teaching positions filled in the area. 

He asserted the district needs to consider either removing one of the industrial arts teaching positions or making an effort to get more students into the career and technical education classes. 

Vice-Chairperson Katie Kruse told the board she would like them to consider adding family and consumer science classes to the offerings made by the school district. She expressed she is not against agricultural education, but she would like to see the district develop a class where students could learn about the intricacies of modern independent living. 

Prior to the meeting’s close, Heth told the board he would like to thank Cheryll Christianson for being at prom and helping out the school district for the past 45 years. Christianson and her husband, Carl, helped make preparations and aid the district to hold a successful prom for the year.

The board adjourned into executive session for a superintendent’s evaluation.



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