School district works to ‘right-size’ itself

By: 
Alexis Barker

The above graph shows the changes in staff versus student

numbers through the course of the last 26 years

Alexis Barker

NLJ News Editor

 

Enrollment in Weston County School District No. 1 has continually declined for years, yet staffing size has remained consistent, according to Superintendent Brad LaCroix, who told the Weston County School District #1 Board of Trustees last week that a correction is needed.

Indicating that he hopes to begin “right-sizing” the district, LaCroix recommended that the board not replace four retiring staff members three of whom are teachers — so that those funds could be used to provide raises to teachers and other district employees instead. 

According to information provided by the district, the district has a total of 779 students enrolled this year and they are being served by
171 faculty members, 73 of whom are teachers. This equates to 10.67 students for every teacher and 4.6 students for every employee — including teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, administrators and other support staff — in the district. 

Statewide, according to edu.wyoming.gov, the recommended student-to-teacher ratio is 16 to 1. 

According to LaCroix, the present student enrollment numbers are significantly lower than they were 15 years ago. 

This is the second straight year that enrollment has hovered at this level. Information from the Wyoming Department of Education shows that the 2020-21 school year, with a student population of 777, had the lowest population in the district in the past 12 years, with the exception of 2017-18 (754 students), and the numbers have dropped significantly from where they were 25 years ago. 

In 1996-97, the district had 1,082 students and roughly 160 faculty members, and by 2000-01, district enrollment had dropped to 907 students and the number of faculty members dipped to 155. In 2010-11, the number of students had dropped to 778 but faculty numbers had rebounded to roughly 165, according to reports from the Wyoming Department of Education. 

Despite those falling student populations, LaCroix said the district has been hesitant to reduce staff numbers, leading to the disparity in student-to-teacher/faculty ratios from those recommended by the state. 

“When the model says 16 to 25 kids and you are at 10 …,” LaCroix offered during a discussion with the News Letter Journal. 

He noted that a district can’t hope to get in line with state recommendations if it continues to boast four teachers for a grade that only has 40 students, adding that the district needs to aim for a three-teacher-per-grade-level concept given its present number of students at those grade levels. 

“We have to have a staffing pattern that is consistent with enrollment,” LaCroix said, noting that available data doesn’t indicate that the level of learning has improved as a result of the lower student to teacher ratios.

“The other thing we have to openly admit, when you look at state test scores, whether you believe in accountability or not …, small classes haven’t provided what you would say are better test results,” LaCroix said. 

 

He was also quick to insist the district must look at benefits to the “whole child,” as well as education accountability.

“Do I think there are more than just tests? I do,” LaCroix said. 

But he  doesn’t believe the small class sizes in the school district have produced evident benefits compared to when the district had a larger student to teacher ratio.

With the hopes of bringing into line — or “right-sizing” — the student to faculty and teacher ratios in the district, LaCroix presented a plan to the board that called for not replacing four retiring faculty members, and instead providing raises to faculty members. 


On April 27, the board of trustees apparently saw the benefit in his proposal, and approved a slew of raises, including $3,500 a year for teachers. This increase will raise the base teacher pay to $50,000, making the district one of the top-12 in the state for teacher pay, according to information provided by LaCroix. 

An additional $1.70 an hour for classified staff was also approved by the board, and substitute teacher pay levels were also increased to $115 and $120, up from $85, $95 and $100 a day. 

The total cost of these raises, according to information provided by LaCroix, is $347,102 for the teacher increases and approximately $208,000.00 for the classified staff raises. The substitute teacher increases will cost the district roughly $20,000 more a year. 

The board, LaCroix reported, will also look at increasing the pay for directors, including the business manager, curriculum director, maintenance director, special ed director, transportation and technology, and administrators, school principals and the superintendent, in the district. A $5,000 increase to the administrator and director pay would cost the district an additional $88,389 a year and a $10,000 annual increase would cost the district $176,778. 

The total increase for raises would cost the district from $641,665.42 to $730,054.00, but LaCroix said part of the increase would be negated by a decision to not replace four retiring staff members. 

“Those are the decisions we have to make. We asked for local control,” LaCroix told the News Letter Journal. “It is easy now because people are walking away, we are not pushing them,” 

LaCroix said during the board meeting that he hoped to produce savings from changing staffing patterns, and indicated that additional information will be provided before considering the increases for administrators and directors on May 4. 

According to information provided by LaCroix, administrators and directors in the district make $3,961 to $21,681.57 less than the average salary for personnel in similar districts in Wyoming. 

The middle school principal, Tyler Bartlett, makes $73,250.00 a year, $21,681.57 less than the state average. The high school principal, Bryce Hoffman, makes $73,250.00, which is $21,539.86 less than the state average, and special education director Taren Olson makes $71,000.00, which is $21,051.71 less than the state average salary for similar districts. 

By increasing the base pay and salaries for district employees, LaCroix hopes that the district is able to retain and attract good teachers and administrators, not to mention other faculty members who provide services to children. 

“We have to take care of the people that take care of kids,” he said, adding that the district could face tough times for staffing in the future because a number of jobs in education are currently going unfilled across Wyoming

“I think we will hit a point where programs disappear because we don’t have the staff,” LaCroix said. “As we speak today, educational personnel advertisements, including bus drivers and coaches, are 54 pages on the Wyoming Department of Education site. … We are trying to get ahead and prepare for the future. We have to have good people for our kids.” 

As for covering for the three teachers and one staff member that won’t be replaced, LaCroix said the district will restructure where needed to address the shortages, and provided an example of how he believes one of the positions can be absorbed.

“When we talk about not replacing choir instructor Jan Ellis, … we are looking at the number of sections needed for band and choir at the middle school and high school levels. Between Sarah and Ryan (Whipple, band and choir instructors), both full-time employees, within their schedule we can still offer both vocal and instrumental programs.” 

He noted that the programs will look different tomorrow from how they look today.  

News Letter Journal

News Letter Journal
14 W. Main St.
P.O. Box 40
Newcastle, WY 82701
Ph: (307) 746-2777
Fax: (307) 746-2660

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