EVANSTON — Four members of the board were absent for the June meeting of the Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees on Tuesday, June 15, when Caleb Guild, Dan Wheeler, Joel Wiedrich and Russell Cox did not attend. With only five members in attendance, the board opted to postpone taking action on Rule CKA, the district’s concealed carry policy, until the July meeting.
Rule CKA was on the agenda as a multi-part action item, with one part to approve the board’s comments in response to public comments received about the proposed rule and another to approve CKA itself, along with its components. However, because several members were absent and the board had received questions and comments about changes to the Statement of Principal Reasons accompanying the rule, board member Cassie Torres moved to table CKA until the July meeting. Torres also moved to issue a new Notice of Intent to Adopt Rule CKA and open another 45-day comment period at the July 22 meeting, in addition to holding another public hearing on the matter, following a board discussion about the public comments.
Chair Jami Brackin said significant changes had been made to the Statement of Principal Reasons after public comments had been received claiming the original statement was insufficient. Brackin said the requirements of the Wyoming Administrative Procedures Act on rulemaking are in place to ensure the board responds to comments and then takes appropriate action, which is what they have done in making changes based on public input. All comments received during the previous comment period this spring are available online at the district website at uinta1.com.
Should the board act on the Notice of Intent in July, a 45-day comment period would begin at that time and run until early September, delaying adoption of the rule until at least the early part of the 2021-22 school year. The board has adopted a similar rule/policy multiple times in the past; however, legal challenges have resulted in the rule being declared null and void each time, forcing the district to begin the adoption procedure again.
Another discussion item at the June meeting involved support for a girls’ wrestling state tournament in Wyoming. Evanston High School wrestling coach Larry Wagstaff spoke in favor of the district officially supporting the creation of a girls’ state tournament, noting that the Wyoming High School Activities Association requires that at least eight schools do so before such a tournament can be created.
Wagstaff said there are already girls wrestling, both from EHS and other schools around the state, on the existing teams and that would continue; however, a separate state tournament would be created for the girls to compete solely against other girls.
Wagstaff said girls wrestling is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and he expects that trend to continue, along with increased numbers of female wrestlers in Wyoming and in Evanston. Board members expressed interest in officially supporting the tournament and will vote on the measure at the July meeting.
Trustees also listened to a presentation from Star Valley Health about possibly providing athletic trainer services for Evanston sports teams. Wagstaff indicated Evanston is currently the only 4A school in the state without a full-time athletic trainer, which can be problematic. Daniel Ordyna, CEO of Star Valley Health, said, if the district decided to work with them, they would recruit someone to live and work in Evanston, at no cost to the district, as part of their organizational effort to expand service provision in Wyoming communities. For the most recent school years, Evanston physical therapist Mike Jacketta has provided services for the district but has not been a full-time trainer. The proposal from Star Valley Health will be discussed further at future meetings.
During school reports, technology and facilities director Jaraun Dennis shared some bad news about efforts to replace the water system at EHS — a project they were hopeful would begin this summer. Dennis said only one contractor submitted a bid on the project, which came in more than $2 million above what the state has allotted the district for completion. He said the district now plans to solicit bids again in the fall in the hopes that more companies will bid and costs will come down after the summer construction season has slowed down.
Dennis said it was “disheartening” to have received only one bid on such a huge project and added there were other projects the district had hoped to begin this summer, but no bids had come in for those projects. He said in speaking with contractors there are issues with hiring enough help to take on additional projects and with the dramatically increased costs of construction materials.
Finally, district chief financial officer John Williams presented a brief budget update in preparation for the July budget hearing when the official budget for the 2021-22 school year will be adopted. Williams and superintendent Ryan Thomas said developing and adopting a budget in July is challenging because they are “working with a moving target,” as the district won’t receive final numbers from the state until October; however, statute requires the budget be approved by the third Wednesday in July.
Williams said there is still some uncertainty related to a bill — Senate File 60 — passed by the Wyoming Legislature in the past session that is a “radical change” in the way mineral taxes are collected and distributed. There are also still monies coming in from federal COVID relief legislation, which Thomas said will allow the district to cut fewer positions for the upcoming school year. He cautioned, however, that those funds are temporary and are not a long-term solution to Wyoming’s education funding shortfall.