School district will move on reconfiguration

LUSK – Lincoln Heth, Talan Stallman, Kinsey Keller and Grant Ashurst, fourth grade students from Cora Fitzgerald’s class, presented their homestead dioramas to the school board at Monday night’s meeting. 

The Niobrara County High School (NCHS) Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) students also discussed their projects and reported that six members had earned spots in the national competition. They requested that any funds the board felt would be appropriate to assist them in their trip to nationals would be appreciated.

The financial picture of the district for the future was discussed. The primary items were the legislative decisions and the hiring of a high school principal and the certified staff rehire recommendations. 

Mirich stated, though only temporary, the district did receive a reprieve as of right now since the legislators failed to pass any actions during the regular session. As of right now, there will not be any budget cuts for the 2021-2022 school year. However, and Mirich made this point several times, the budget could still be cut depending on what the office of the governor determines and during the special session in July there could still be ramifications for the school districts. The district must continue to be diligent and make contingencies in the event budgets change between now and next year. It is also important to remember that even deeper cuts may be forthcoming in the next few years and the district should be anticipating this.

A close margin separated the vote which resulted in a decision to move forward with school reconfiguration. After extensive discussion, debate, disagreement and varying degrees of frustration the board voted five to four to move forward with creating a junior high within the high school building for a 7-12 educational environment. This will result in moving sixth grade back into the elementary school. 

The potential for other changes including a 3-6 wing, progressive disciplinary alternative environment section and other changes will be addressed by administration and teachers in the coming months. Next fall, when students return to school, those in seventh and eighth grade will walk through the doors at Niobrara County High School. 

Will Boldon and James Santistevan both addressed the board prior to the decision during a visitors’ section asking the board to give the decision more time and spoke in opposition to the proposed change. 

The extensive discussion included debate as to the role of the school board in the representational perspective. It also included points by member Sheila Boldon regarding the specifics of board policy for their purpose, function and governing perspectives.

In a pointed confrontation, Boldon requested information as it relates to the decision-making process for public forums and how information is disseminated to the public. She questioned who made the decision of the schedule for the forum, who created the presentation George Mirich did and how others were included in that process. 

Several members pointed out that Lexie Ashurst, Chairperson serves as a liaison to the administration in her role as Chair. It was clarified that she often facilitates fulfilling the requests of board members to ensure action is taken per their directives within the district.

Boldon, unsatisfied with the responses, voiced frustration that she doesn’t feel the board is working as a cohesive team, particularly when it comes to the information the board is sharing with the public. 

Tension rose when debate turned to the reconfiguration proposal. Despite the fact that this was initially brought to the board’s attention in February, some members felt like the timeline was to quick. Randy Rose said he had spoken to 38 different parents and not one had felt fully in support of the proposal.

All board members agreed the informational forum last Thursday had resulted in a more positive perspective from the community in general. It was also of note that according to a survey, the majority of teachers in the district were in support of the change. The research that has been done by teachers, administrators and board members indicates there are really no down sides to the reconfiguration and many other districts have been successfully functioning as 6-12 or 7-12 buildings for some time. Glenrock was specifically cited since they reconfigured, changed to a four-day week and added a preschool all at the same time. Finally, Loren Heth made a motion to table the item. The motion failed and Katie Kruse called for the question. The proposal passed with a roll call vote.

The board approved the hiring of Robyn Heth as the full-time high school principal and the rehire of all certified staff as presented by administration. 

Additional business items included the acceptance of the construction bid for the new high school fire alarm system, the approval of a new homeschool petition and approving a new middle school track assistant coach and two sports paraprofessionals.



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