Deteriorating buildings, inadequately funded arts discussed at GCSD board meeting
GOSHEN COUNTY – Rapidly deteriorating buildings, an inadequately funded arts program across the district, new board treasurer and new board member were topics of conversation during Wednesday’s rescheduled Goshen County School District (GCSD) Board of Trustees meeting.
After a two-hour long executive session, which began at 6 p.m. Wednesday night, to discuss personnel matters and disciplinary actions for two students the board later voted on, the rescheduled regular meeting hosted as a special meeting got underway.
The April GCSD meeting had originally been voted on by board members last summer to be moved to April 4, 2023, to avoid a scheduling conflict with the district calendar, however, it was canceled due to an early spring blizzard. On Tuesday, the board announced it canceled the meeting and would reschedule it for Wednesday as a special meeting due to open public meeting laws and Roberts Rules.
A few items were removed from Wednesday nights’ agenda due to needing more time to complete before board approval; such as offering a contract to an unnamed individual for the open principal position at Torrington Middle School (TMS). The district cited a late acceptance of the offer and contract as the reason needed to move this item to the May board meeting.
However, at the start of the meeting, GCSD Superintendent and Vice Chair Sarah Chaires, who was filling in as chairwoman due to Chairman Michael Sussex being absent at Wednesday’s meeting, swore in newest member Lena Moeller. Moeller was selected from a pool of four candidates to fill the vacancy after former GCSD Treasurer Bob Peterson stepped down in April at a special GCSD board meeting.
Also absent at Wednesday’s special board meeting was Trustee Matthew Cushman, subsequently, due to no volunteers or motions to nominate present trustees for the vacant treasurer position, Cushman was nominated in his absence. The board voted unanimously to make Cushman the new treasurer.
Chaires asked for volunteers to fill vacant board positions on two district committees: the district policy committee and the district salary committee. No board member chose to volunteer, therefore, at a future undetermined date, Sussex will appoint those positions.
The board went into a public hearing regarding the proposed demolition of the “Little House” at Torrington High School (THS) and offered to hear from the public; no members of the public or board chose to speak about the proposal.
The board held a public forum both during the public hearing for the demolition and also its regular meeting, however, again no members of the public spoke.
Chaires, and present board members: Clerk Chris Alexander, Trustees Carlos Saucedo, Dylan Hager, Justin Hurley, Wade Phipps and Moeller heard from the districts’ student board representatives: Jordan Napier, Mason Wilkes and Sydney Moeller regarding the fine arts programs across the district.
According to the student representatives, the fine arts programs within GCSD are dilapidated, unsafe, underfunded and unnoticed.
One of the student board members said their choir director had to pay for sheet music out-of-pocket due to the lack of funding the district fine arts programs receive. Another student board member noted the poor condition of the theaters and the third noted the hazardous lighting situation within the fine arts programs, such as the theater, and thanked Eastern Wyoming College (EWC) for loaning its lights so the school could put on its theater programs.
All three of this year’s student board representatives are highly involved in the districts’ fine arts and music programs, which they spoke passionately about during a joint presentation to the board on Wednesday night.
The students explained to members of the public, trustees and district personnel present at Wednesday’s meeting they felt GCSD fine arts programs are not supported in the manner in which they believe the various programs should be.
Wilkes explained to the board why fine arts are important and said fine arts provides students with opportunities that help foster empathy, improve effective interactions with peers or adults and aids in human development regardless of one’s career path. Much of Wilkes’ input centered around his involvement with the THS band and theater, where he demonstrated an issue of unsafe lighting conditions in the high school’s auditorium.
Lingle-Fort Laramie (LFL) high school representative Napier explained to the board how fine arts provides students with a way to express themselves creatively, how participation in fine arts improves students’ self-esteem as well as confidence in academic abilities and helps as a stress reliever for many of the districts’ students.
Southeast Schools (SES) high school representative Moeller said fine arts are important because it stimulates the same part of the brain that deals with understanding language, provides a greater understanding of tone, how different segments of speech align and how studies show that students engaged in fine arts do better academically.
The student representatives spoke of several concerns they personally have with the districts’ fine arts programs, as well as concerns from their peers and district fine arts teachers.
One such concern Moeller discussed was the quality of materials and spaces the various fine arts programs use districtwide.
“One of the main concerns that we got from talking to our choir and band directors and anyone in charge of that, was the cost of instrument repairs,” Moeller said. “Our music program only has one fund that we use for everything.”
Moeller explained how funding for instrument repairs and choir trips often leaves the districts’ fine arts programs unable to repair or replace other much needed items, such as the broken piano at Southeast and how the choir is using a less than ideal keyboard they found in a storage room closet. She also said other schools are also in dire need of new pianos and/or piano repairs to include more regular maintenance of the pianos.
Another concern addressed by Wilkes was the lack of priority scheduling for fine arts spaces and the lack of care by other non fine arts groups when in these spaces.
“We just want it to be – kind of known that it’s everyone’s space, but it’s our space too – so if someone wants to use the auditorium, or wants to use the band or choir room, we just want them to take care of our place and keep it nice,” Wilkes explained.
The students showed slide images of the dilapidated, unsafe and concerning areas of these fine arts spaces so that board members, district personnel and members of the public saw what they were talking about.
Napier spoke specifically about the LFL fine arts concerns, such as being under budgeted and underfunded and how the school must take from one fine arts program to cover another but continues to fall short financially with all fine arts programs.
“Every year, our director has to take money from the choir fund to cover (the) band, and then ends up buying music out-of-pocket for both band and choir, usually exceeding $300 per year,” Napier explained. Napier demonstrated a brief financial breakdown she obtained from her fine arts teachers to demonstrate how short the district falls when funding these programs.
The students, who all share fine arts buildings and facilities at times, demonstrated with photos from the facilities how unsafe some of the conditions can be and what repairs they felt were necessary and prudent.
All three students discussed maintenance concerns, needs and desires, such as broken or unusable seating, in which they counted more than 45 auditorium seats are unusable, holes in the stage floor, outdated and dangerous lighting, hanging condenser mics (also known as fly mics) and a need to paint the backstage walls.
Napier said, “We realize this is not a tomorrow thing.”
“We do realize that this is probably a five to seven year plan,” Napier explained. “We don’t expect it to happen next year – or the year after – but we want to plan ahead just in case.”
Kramer told trustees and members of the public, the student board representatives came up with this discussion topic on their own, usually, Kramer and the district guide or direct topics for student representatives to look into, research and collect information from their schools for the next board meeting.
GCSD Business Manager Marcy Cates explained to the students, board and members of the public that many of the concerns the students have can be addressed in a number of different manners with a number of different budgets the district has, such as the major maintenance budget for building repairs.
Kramer reiterated the districts’ fine arts programs do a lot of fundraising to help out, but could use more in the future and he commended the students for getting ahead and the fundraising they have done and still do for their various programs.
GCSD board members motioned for and unanimously voted to approve the recommendation of Kramer regarding two separate students’ discipline actions to be taken. Due to educational privacy laws, those students were only identified numerically and the actions leading up to a disciplinary action or the disciplinary action itself was not made known to the public. These items were discussed during the two hour closed executive board meeting and the board members voted to go with the unknown recommendation of the superintendent.
After conversations with both parents and school facilitators, the district extended an employment agreement to Shaina Simonson as an occupational therapist for the district to begin in the 2023-2024 school year, pending Wyoming licensure; the board unanimously approved extending this contract.
The board also approved extending an employment agreement to Christina Bullington as a part-time Project AWARE Coordinator for the 2023-2024 school year.
The board voted to approve making Tyler Floerchinger as the 2023 elementary summer school principal and Jacob Martin as the 2023 secondary summer school principal.
GCSD trustees approved a contract with the Wyoming State Board Association (WSBA) for district strategic planning for incremental phased rates ranging from $6,000 to $500 for a total of $8,000 plus travel expenses to be paid from the general fund under board expenses.
The board also approved a license renewal with Instructure for Canvas Learning Management Systems, the system students and teachers use for virtual snow days or virtual learning. In addition to the Canvas renewal, the board voted to approve contracting with PowerSchool for the Unified Insights Program in the amount of $18,812.49 for the 2023-2024 school year, to be paid out of the ESSER funds budget.
In an effort to further address literacy in the district, the board approved contracting with Instructional Intensity Inc of the district literacy needs survey in the amount of $15,000, which is a requirement of the Wyoming BILT Grant, in which the grant covers this expense.
The board also approved a handful of other larger maintenance needs and classroom purchases for the district; such as painting, central cooling, a video board, custodial buildings equipment as well as paper and cleaning supplies.
GCSD Board of Trustees will have a board work session for the 2023-2024 preliminary budget on April 13, starting at 6 p.m. at Central Administration. There will be a salary relations committee meeting on April 14, starting at 8 a.m. at Central Administration.
The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be May 9, at 7 p.m. at Central Administration.
Kramer gave his monthly superintendent’s report, which will appear in a future edition of the Telegram. In his report, he discussed an update on staffing, staffing needs, in-district transfers, enrollment numbers, district report card committee and rapidly approaching graduation for high schoolers.
In this report, Kramer announced high school graduation for all three schools will be held Sunday, May 22; THS at 1 p.m., LFL at 2:30 p.m., and SES at 4 p.m. Kramer asked for board volunteers to be at each graduation.