WCSD No. 1 talks budget cuts

By: 
Alexis Barker

Alexis Barker

NLJ News Editor

 

With budget cuts to departments and agencies looming across the state because of cuts in state education funds, Weston County School District No. 1 knows some serious trimming is coming. What isn’t known, for the time being, is how much those cuts will be and how the district will pare down its expenses. 

“There is large amounts of concern, not just here but statewide about how big the budget cuts will be,” said Superintendent Brad LaCroix, during a Feb. 10 school board meeting. “We just don’t know. Every day, every week, the cuts are getting more drastic. Two weeks ago, it was $100 million in cuts for the Department of Education; next week it could be $150 million.” 

The School Foundation Program is currently the biggest contributor to the state’s total deficit, according to information provided by Rep. Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle; Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Sundance; Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle; and Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower. With a $298 million shortfall this year, the deficit is projected to grow to $546 million by 2023-24 and $649 million by 2025-26.

Cuts for the Newcastle schools, LaCroix explained, are still up in the air. No matter how much the state cuts funding to local school districts, whether it is $1 million or even more, there will be changes to education in Newcastle. Anything included in the general budget is up for discussion, La Croix said. 

“It has been lots of fun building it (the education system); it will be miserable taking it apart,” he said. “Everything has to be looked at.”

While no decisions have been made, discussions have started and rumors of proposed changes have begun circulating throughout the district. 

One of the specific changes mentioned during the board meeting was  a suggestion to move Newcastle High School from a block schedule to a seven-period day. Science instructor Doug Scribner approached the board with a letter signed by school staff outlining the staffs’ concerns with the proposal and their own alternative options. 

“It has come to our attention that there is a proposal to move to a seven-period day. We brainstormed our concerns as a staff and have prepared a letter outlining a couple of points,” Scribner said. “We want to emphasize for the board that this suggestion is not coming from the high school, and we are curious who proposed the change and what they are trying to accomplish. From our perspective, that is a big change and we are not sure how that will make a big impact on the budget.” 

The NHS staff letter questions what impacts the potential change will have on students and their performance. The staff also expressed concerns regarding certain programs, including internships and partnerships with Eastern Wyoming College, which might also be affected by a change in class structure at the school. 

“This would be an excellent opportunity for the district as a whole to work together to propose solutions to meet the budget cut,” the letter states. “Our focus should be on creating the best possible learning environment for all students through vertical planning.” 

Following Scribner’s presentation, LaCroix explained that a  block schedule is being considered because class sizes are significantly smaller than with proposed models from the state. 

“In K-8, we do everything in three or four sections per grade. Kindergarten through third, there are four sections; third through fifth, there are three sections per grade; and it is about the same at the middle school,” LaCroix said. “At the high school, we have roughly five sections per grade, and we don’t have more kids.” 

“We aren’t just looking at the high school, though. We are talking about changes to everything in the general fund budget,” he said. “We are going to try to keep as many programs and people as we can.” 

“No decisions have been made, but everything has to be looked at,” he continued. 

In their letter, the teachers suggest that the district consider administration consolidation, program consolidation, potential reclassification as a 2A school, a revised calendar, early retirement options and athletic fees to participate or watch sports. The teachers also felt that cuts to the budget could be made by controlling supply costs. 

“As a staff, we understand that if fully implemented, these cuts will be significant. As a high school staff, we also appreciate the academic programs that have been built to provide students with very unique and valuable experiences,” the letter says. “The success of our students after high school is a testament to the experiences that began in kindergarten and culminated in their graduation from our district. Our hope is that whatever changes take place, we can preserve as much of the student experience as possible.” 

Board Chair Tina Chick reaffirmed that the district has not made any definitive decisions regarding budget cuts and that the board will do its best to be as transparent as possible throughout the process. 

“We have to plan for the worst,” LaCroix said. 

The district will continue to discuss budget concerns during meetings and workshops, including the board retreat on Wednesday, Feb. 17. Local lawmakers will also be invited to attend a meeting via Zoom or in person to hear from stakeholders and discuss concerns. 

 

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