NIOBRARA COUNTY – Niobrara County School District No. 1 Superintendent George Mirich informed board members during their Oct. 12 meeting about a letter from the state legislature’s committee on school finance recalibration that asks district school boards to think about ways to cut their budgets in the next four years.
Mirich said in the 2021-22 biennium, the state would like to see a 16% budget cut, and in 2023-24, an additional 27% cut, which amounts to 43% in total.
He not only opposed the cuts, but also the state’s insistence that the board takes this on themselves.
“(State officials) were elected to do that, you guys weren’t elected to do that,” Mirich said. “And I strongly suggest you stay out of that.”
None of the district’s costs are going to decrease, he said, which would put the board in a tough position when it comes to personnel. It would require cuts to educators’ salaries across the board, which they want to avoid as it ultimately affects the quality of education.
Board member Randy Rose said legislators “just don’t get it.”
“Until they have to sit down in a room this size and listen to high school students say, ‘I can’t major in math in college, I can’t get enough math classes in my school to get me ready to do that on the college level,’” he said. “That won’t hurt them until they have kids looking them right in the face and telling them, ‘I can’t do it in Wyoming.’”
Board member Cheryl Lund said these budget cuts may be possible in larger communities, but cutting teachers’ salaries in a small community could have grave repercussions. It will also make Wyoming a less competitive state in terms of teacher salaries.
“Those teachers will leave town, sell their house, take their children out of town,” she said. “It could really hurt the economy of our community.”
The state recalibration committee will meet Oct. 28-30, at which time they will seek public testimony. NCSD school board would like community members to get involved and speak on behalf of their district and community. The board will hold a work session on the matter next Monday, Oct. 19 at 6 p.m.
In other business, the board passed a resolution by board member Lexie Ashurst to present legislation to the Wyoming School Board Association regarding the ability to increase or decrease board sizes. There is currently no legislation on the matter, she said.
Four other school districts will cosponsor it, according to board Chair Joel Richardson.
The board voted in favor of changing the district’s late resignation policy, which will penalize staff members who resign after April 15, which makes it more difficult to find a replacement for them come fall.
“All that is is just to encourage them to do it as early as possible,” Mirich said.
The board discussed the topic at length, concerned about teachers losing some of their accumulated leave. Attorney Mark Hughes said he would have to look at the policy.
“If the contract says they’ll be subject to all policies for the district, and this is a policy in the district, notwithstanding a contract, the policy would supersede the contract,” he said.
The board also voted in favor of advertising a third high school and middle school wrestling coach position, as coaching volunteers and parents are not allowed at practices due to Wyoming High School Activities Association COVID-19 guidelines.
Rose said a third coach would make the environment safer for wrestlers.
“You need more people around the place where they can see, because a lot of times, kids don’t recognize they’re in danger,” Rose said. “That’s why we have officials that break holds in matches.”
Prior to the vote, seven wrestlers read a statement in favor of allowing John Thayer to continue volunteering. Richardson advised the wrestlers to encourage anyone who they’d like to apply for the position.
The board of trustees heard from two additional visitors during the meeting.
Karen Jassman represented the booster club in asking whether they can provide a meal for Saratoga High School football and volleyball teams when they visit the Tigers on Oct. 23. The board responded at the end of the meeting, saying that would be fine as long as it isn’t buffet-style.
Rachel Manning addressed the board and thanked Mirich for his work.
“Thank you for doing your job, for being our boots on the ground to carry out the wishes of the school board. We do appreciate it,” she said.
She asked that the board members and administration make an effort to better communicate with the public so they understand difficulties and decision making, avoiding a lot of criticism.
“That way when you are at least facing the rock in the front, you have a community at your back, who has your back, somebody in your corner,” Manning said. “It would go a lot better to have those communication channels a little bit more open and flowing a little more smoothly. I know we as the public need to do our part as well.”
Manning also asked questions regarding mask mandates, parents volunteering with sports and who will conduct contact tracing in the event of a positive coronavirus case. Mirich said he would send her an email.
Administrators gave updates. The board approved Wyoming Virtual Academy Head of School Joe Heywood’s 10 students who have completed all requirements and would like to graduate early. Richardson asked that they and others in the future be encouraged to take college courses so as to continue their education.
LEMS Principal Lu Kaspers named Nate Nelson middle school student of the month.
Halfway through the meeting, the board went into executive session to discuss personnel.
The board moved to remove approval of financials from the consent agenda and to revisit it at their next meeting. The board will hold a work session regarding the state committee on school financial recalibration on Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. Their next meeting will be held Oct. 26 at 6 p.m.