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School Dist. No. 1 pushes to open school doors

The board of District No. 1 stated unequivocally during their July 15 regular meeting that they will do everything in their power to bring students back into the school building,  as school districts across the state continue to wrangle with what exactly learning will look like as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. 

“The board is united in the effort to get our kids back to school safely, and for it to be as traditional as possible,” school board member Joseph Bassett said. “We want to get our kids back into school and back into sports. We’re committed to doing what it takes on our side to provide that for our district and encourage other districts to do the same.”

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Chairmen Ed Riding affirmed Bassett’s statement.

“Absolutely as normal as we can possibly make it,” Riding said. “As far as we can push.” 

The statements were made as superintendent Ben Smith laid out the current considerations and steps the district is making as the new school year quickly approaches. The beginning of the school year is August 25, and what exactly that will look like is still very much uncertain.

“We anticipate and are hopeful that we will be able to start school as scheduled and activities as scheduled,” Smith told the board. “That’s what we’re gunning for and shooting for.”

Districts throughout the state are being asked to put together three separate plans for education in the new school year. The first plan will detail education where schools are open and education services are offered to a minimal number of students at home. The second plan is for a hybrid system, where only a portion of students are brought into the school every day and the rest of the students receive education remotely from home. The third plan is for a closed system, where every student receives education virtually. 

“We anticipate that we will be in session,” Smith said. “Every school is working on setting up their classrooms in a way that will allow for social distancing. We are hopeful that the requirement for masks will be very limited. We know for now that it will be required on the bus, during passing time and those opportunities when we can’t social distance. But it may be there are health orders that come out and say we have to be masked all the time.”

Smith said the district is currently reviewing their leave and attendance policy, to account for a potentially higher number of students not in the building due to COVID-19 considerations. Students who show symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 will have to be quarantined until 72 hours after symptoms have passed.

“If you have a student going home, how do we keep them engaged? How do we keep them involved in the class? Can we keep them engaged virtually, so they can still attend classes from home?” Smith said. “I think we will be able to get there. I am thinking the state will allow us to just count them as present in that situation.” 

Smith said he sees promise in remote learning, where a student unable to be in the building will be able to tune into a live class and interact with the teacher in real time from home. Establishing that capability would not only make education more accessible to students, but would also decrease the workload of teachers. 

“It’s going to be difficult for teachers to deliver instruction in person and then give a separate lesson at home,” Smith said. “We’re going to try really hard to make that connection so students can connect live during the lesson.”

Finally, Smith said discussions are ongoing within the Wyoming High School Activities Association about what extra-curricular activities will look like in the new school year. A specific plan is being developed and will be released as soon as it is approved by the Wyoming Department of Health, Smith said. 

“Once that plan is approved by state health, that will come out for all of the schools to help guide their re-entry process,” Smith said. “But it’s a huge piece of the puzzle for kids to be involved in activities. We want to do everything we can to get that to happen as close to normal as possible.

“That plan will provide a lot more clarity and will be sports specific.” 

Smith said there is a possibility that spring sports and fall sports are swapped, meaning spring sports such as track and field will be held during the fall while fall sports, such as football, will be played at the end of the school year. That may be ideal, as spring sports are more individualistic and are less
likely to spread sickness, Smith said.

Burlington SRO

With cuts to education on the horizon, the board pushed forward with its plan to bring a full-time school resource officer to Burlington. 

The presence of an SRO would not only give Burlington schools a law enforcement presence but would also give the town one. According to statements made by board member and Burlington resident Gary Brunko in previous meetings, there is currently a half hour response time from law enforcement to emergencies in Burlington. 

The district has secured a three-year grant that will lessen the load of paying for an SRO. The agreement drafted with the Big Horn Sheriff’s Office will last for four years, meaning the cost of an SRO for the first three years will be reduced, amounting to just over $27,000 but on the fourth year the district will pay full price for the service, just below $57,000.

“There is a possibility, starting next year and for the next couple years, that we’ll probably experience some cuts,” Smith said, asking the board to consider that within their decision.

Smith said there is an alternative proposal to share an SRO part-time with Greybull, meaning both districts would split the cost as well. The board rejected that proposal, stating that it did not bring enough benefit to the district. 

Smith also stated that if the board decided to move forward and cuts were necessary, the district did have the option of cutting the SRO position within Rocky Mountain schools and have the Burlington officer split his time with Rocky schools. 

Business Manager Richard Parker said with the current shape of the budget, even with cuts, the district should be able to carry the burden of paying for the position.

“$50,000 to $60,000 will not break our budget,” Parker told the board.

The board unanimously instructed Smith to accept the four-year deal with the sheriff’s department.

“I just think the relationship (SROs) build with kids and the things they prevent before they happen is huge,” board member David Banks said. 

Budget 

The board unanimously approved the 2020-2021 budget after a special budget hearing Wednesday. 

Parker said the district is going steady after last year saw a decrease in funds due to student numbers dropping in the district. 

After dropping from 643 total students to 612 in the last school year, Big Horn No. 1 is up by two students, Parker said, and while that may not bring much of a funding increase, it’s far preferred to the hit the district took last year.

The district has a total of $12,712,182 in cash reserves, Parker reported, up from the $11,404,896 reported last year.

Parker projected that the district will bring in $24,872,688 in revenues and spend $25,640,843 in expenses.

By Ryan Fitzmaurice 

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