Student visitors, salary schedule focus of district work session

Heather Goddard/Special to the Herald Student Maria Farnham presents to the board on her experience as an online student with WYVA.

LUSK – The Jan. 27 Niobrara County School District board meeting was called to order at 6 p.m. by Chairman Joel Richardson. Following the pledge and reading of the mission and vision the agenda was approved as presented. 

Visitors:

Wyoming Virtual Academy students Maria Farnham and Faith Anderson spoke to the board about their recent accomplishments and their experiences as WYVA students. Farnham was the state 4A golf champion. She discussed why WYVA is the ideal education option for her and has allowed her to travel extensively with her parents and grow a great deal as an individual. Anderson won a state-wide essay contest How will you be a part of Wyoming history?§ She read her essay to the board. It addressed mental health awareness and suicide prevention in the state of Wyoming and how she can play a role in improving outcomes for
Wyoming residents. 

Both students thanked the board for their support of education choice and their continued support of WYVA. They also answered questions from board members about their experience with WYVA, saying they wouldnt change anything about the online school. Both said online school was certainly the best fit for them as students and they didnt feel they would have been as successful without the online option.

Representatives of the NCHS Science Bowl team invited the board to attend the science bowl, scheduled for Feb. 15 at Kelly Walsh High in Casper with the time to be determined. NCHS will be taking two teams to the competition. The members are Chance Richardson, Pierce Palmer, Tyler Basile, Aiden Applegarth, Wyatt Stauffer, Ben Eiden, Lily Bukowski, Sierra Eaton and Adele Desenfents. The teams will first compete in 11, round-robin rounds and then move into double elimination. Winners receive an expense paid trip to Washington D.C.

The school district has had an open attorney position since spring of 2019 and they have received two inquiries regarding this position. Both candidates were present at the board meeting and presented themselves for questions and to discuss their perspective on the position. 

Mark Hughes of Sundance informed the board that he is currently the district attorney for Crook County District No. 1 and Weston County No. 7. He has also done work for BOCES and Weston District No. 1. Hughes knows the superintendent and his family well and has represented Crook county since 1978. He is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and has no plans to retire soon but does look forward to his sons graduation from law school and potentially working with him. He would be available for meetings either via teleconference or in person. He reviewed his experience and briefly discussed his hourly rate of $250 per hour and potential fee schedules. He emphasized that he has a great deal of experience and isnt going to beg for the job but would be happy to represent Niobrara County.

Logan Heth of Lusk was also present and had submitted an inquiry for the position in April of 2019 following the resignation of Doyle Davies. He graduated from the University of Wyoming as well and has been practicing since 2007. While Heth does not have the experience of Hughes, he emphasized that he has a vested interest in seeing the district be successful. His two children attend school at LEMS, his wife and mother are employees of the district and his father serves on the school board. Heth does not see this as a conflict or a problem but rather an asset. He is well informed on the position of the district and has every reason to want to see the district succeed. He stated that whatever he does for the district in terms of counsel or policy work he will always have the interests of the students as his focus. If he doesnt know the answer, he is happy to find it and seek out the knowledge of colleagues. Board members expressed interest in seeing his resume and letter of interest which he provided.

Rawhide FFA Students Larkin Williams, Elyse Richards, Colton Coffman, Miles Accurst and Cooper Stuart presented Roberts Rules of Order through a parliamentary procedure demonstration by doing a mock meeting.

Following the FFA demonstration, Loren Heth commended all students present for their work and their presentations.

Reports:

There was nothing specifically prepared from the business manager or superintendent at this time but both presented information later in the meeting.

Board Members Reports:

Candy Dooper attended a Building and Maintaining Trust§ workshop in Casper on Jan. 19. She was able to pick up an extra packet should any other board members be interested in reading the books and working through some of the information. 

Trust is a very important topic since it is such an integral part of a functional organization. Cooper saidt there is some work to be done in the district to improve trust at all levels. Brian Farmer presented the material which came from three well-known books, Speed of Trust§ (Stephen Covey), Five Dysfunctions of a Team§ (Patrick Lecioni), and The Trust Edge§ (David Horsecker). 

Coopers take away from Speed of Trust§ was that Covey gave a scenario where the leadership team might have an airtight strategy and execution is on point but they dont get the results they are looking for. People dont follow strategy they follow leaders. When leadership shows that they care about the people that are involved in that strategy then those people will respond. Building relationships builds trust. 

The group also took a Simplified form of Meyers-Briggs with the personality traits corresponding to the 8 pillars from Trust Edge which are the 8 Cs. Dooper has resolved that when she witnesses a positive activity, she is going to acknowledge that to build relationships and build trust. She would challenge all of the board members to do this.

Randy Rose spent four days at the state music educators conference in Gillette. Rose was asked to chair a group of educators that have made the same changes that the Niobrara district has, moving beginner band up to 6th grade and having them all in the same classroom. The obstacle this creates is that none of the beginner kids can receive individual attention with these combined band settings. The time it takes to get small hands proficient and first sounds are difficult to do when you have that many students all thrown in together. A lot of schools in the state are going through the same thing. 

The common opinion is that those kids in first year will have to be split into small groups to give them a decent start to give them success down the road. Big and small districts are struggling with this. Rose pointed out that if regular elementary classes get broken down by proficiency or level then why cant the district be doing that in music?

Tina Christianson did point out that the current music educator has made amazing progress with all aspects of the program and specifically the pep band. Mirth thanked Rose and his wife Debbie for their time working with the 5th and 6th graders as volunteers.

Loren Heth presented Candy Dooper and Randy Rose with plaques of recognition for the the efforts they have made to go above and beyond by attending additional meetings and educational opportunities. The state school board wanted to thank them for the time and commitment that they have made.

The consent agenda was approved as presented.

Discussion Topics

Business Manager Stuart Larson began his Business Managers Lessons§ series. He started the series with a lesson on board packets and what is included and why. He reviewed how to read some of the reports and what to be looking for. Board packet and why they are in there.Board packets are emailed out prior to the meeting.

The board discussed a self-evaluation tool presented by Superintendent Mirich. The proposed form was created by the state school board association. The board agreed to use the tool as presented. 

All members will complete the evaluation form and return either a physical copy or via email to the administrative office by noon on Friday. Randy Rose will collect the returned forms, compile the information and have the results to the board prior to the next board meeting.

The board received proposed revised salary schedules for all levels of staffing. Extensive discussion was held regarding the percentage add ons for extra responsibilities, new columns for extended service and national certifications. 

There were proposed changes to the base of days worked and Mirich explained to the board that they need to set a limit on credit for years of experience that the district will allow to transfer in. Additional information is being sought regarding when the district transitioned from coaching stipends to be based on total salary instead of base salary. 

At this time Mirich will be meeting with current coaching staff to try and figure out when and why this change occurred and then will determine if the he will recommend changing that policy. 

Mirich is not recommending any salaries be reduced to match proposed schedules but does recommend maintaining existing pay until the individual meets the schedule requirements. Heth expressed a need to make sure we are remaining competitive with surrounding districts. He also has concerns that for non-certified staff the extra duties that they are taking on are not being addressed in salary and pay schedules. 

Mirich reiterated that they havent started diving into the Special Education salaries and pay but they plan to. For support staff there is a different schedule. Years of experience equivalents was discussed. To move forward with the salary schedule changes it will need to be put into the district policy. The board needs to take the schedules for consideration.

Policy Section I has several areas that need attention. The grade scale needs to be reviewed. What is published in the handbooks versus what is actually being used have a discrepancy. Policy needs to address the math requirements for graduation. GPA as a high school student in Niobrara County and composite ACT score requirement for graduation need to be revisited and set. There is a vast discrepancy between the state recommended college and career readiness scores and what the district currently requires. 

Mirich reminded the board that only four members at a time are allowed to attend committee meetings because if there are five members present together then it becomes an illegal meeting. The board designated specific people to be the policy committee representatives to ensure than five members dont show up for a committee meeting. 

Moved into executive session at 9:13 p.m. for personnel and salary schedule.

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