By DAVID MARTIN
Editor 

School closure recommended

Jackson is the most viable for closure

 

October 11, 2017



Facing another round of budgetary cuts from the Wyoming Legislature and declining enrollment in its elementary schools, a Green River school was recommended for closure Tuesday evening.

Superintendent Donna Little-Kaumo recommended closing Jackson Elementary School to the Sweetwater County School District No. 2 board, saying a combination of the building’s condition and the lower student population make it the best candidate for closure. A final decision won’t occur until November, with the district planning to host two public feedback meetings about the potential closure in the meantime.

Little-Kaumo said the district can move the Jackson teachers and students to the Monroe Intermediate School building.

The district has lost 98 students in the last year, a decline Little-Kaumo attributes to the decline in the regional energy industry. That decrease in students will result in a loss of $1.13 million in funding to the district. At Jackson, with the relocation of its English Language Learner program, the school’s enrollment dropped to 120 students.


The building also requires a number of upgrades, funding for which Little-Kaumo said won’t be available from the state in the near future.

Additionally, Little-Kaumo believes the Legislature is gearing up to increase classroom sizes in an attempt to reduce the number of full-time education positions across the state. A memo from the Legislative Service Office to the legislature’s Select Committee on School Facilities sent Sept. 15, depicts savings that could be realized. A change to a 19:1 ratio would save the state $44.7 million and reduce the number of full-time positions by 589, which would result in a loss of $1.3 million in funding for the district. A shift to a 20:1 ration would save $57 million according to the LSO, cutting 745 positions and result in a $1.7 million decrease to the district.

Other proposed cost-saving measures, which include changes in calculating annual daily membership within a district and shifting school districts to the state’s health insurance plan would also reduce district funding. Little-Kaumo estimates a total decline between $4.5 million and $4.9 million to the district in the next budget year.

“The loss of nearly 100 students in the elementary setting and class size increasing suggest we need to close one of our elementary buildings,” Little-Kaumo said, reading from presentation slide.

Other schools were considered but, would be more difficult for the district to close. Washington Elementary is the only elementary school on the north side of Green River and houses the BEST program, which serves students who would have difficulty adapting to the change. Both Harrison and Truman schools have large residential boundaries. Harrison Elementary has an inclusive playground and a Snoozlen room for special needs students. It also houses the Home to High need special education program. Truman is the only school with a school-wide Title 1 program and just received a new roof during the summer.


The recommendation hits close to home for board member Corina Tynsky.

“It’s hard for me. It’s where my kids go, it’s where they’re comfortable,” she said.

Tynsky said the administration compiled a lot of data and research into making the recommendation and admits it will be a hard decision to make for the board.

Little-Kaumo urges parents to get involved with their legislators and speak to them about not cutting education spending, with board member Steve Core suggesting the district provide parents with a simple talking points guide to help them discuss funding issues.

Board member John Malone was much more critical of the state Legislature, saying the capitol building’s renovation costs have topped $250 million and legislators will host busloads of children coming to visit during their 2018 legislative session. Malone said legislators will tell students how important education is while working to gut education funding and the importance of following the laws governing the state, while ignoring the Wyoming Constitution’s statutes regarding school funding.


“If there is a crown for hypocrisy, that Legislature should be the winner,” he said.

 

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