Local school board approves concealed-carry policy, again

Uinta County School Board No. 1 Trustees Cassie Torres, Caleb Guild and Kay Fackrell listen during last week’s school board meeting. Trustees unanimously voted in support of allowing district staff to carry concealed firearms at schools and other district property at the Tuesday, April 9 meeting. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — Slightly more than one year after passing policy CKA to allow approved staff to carry concealed firearms on school district property, the Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees voted again to adopt the concealed carry rule at the Tuesday, April 9 regular board meeting. 

After several months of revisiting the rule and again soliciting public comments following a court ruling declaring the original policy null and void last fall, trustees voted unanimously in favor of the CKA “packet,” which included the rule itself and all attendant documents and forms, along with the district’s responses to public comments received. Trustee Russell Cox was not in attendance at the meeting. 

The vote clears the way for district staff to again apply for approval to carry concealed firearms in the workplace, which trustees have indicated they believe will be a deterrent to anyone considering acts of violence in Evanston schools. The rule in its entirety and all other associated documents are available to review on the district website. 

In addition to the approval of CKA, board members heard from district superintendent Ryan Thomas on the 2019-20 budget. Thomas said the district still does not have definite funding numbers from the state, even though the legislative session wrapped up more than a month ago. 

Without the definite numbers, Thomas said the district is doing everything they can to plan and budget based on best estimates.

“The good news is we’re in a better position than we’ve been in for the past five years because of enrollment and some things the legislature passed this year,” he said.

One of the key legislative changes is the removal of the cap on transportation expenses, which limited the amount of reimbursement a district could receive for expenses related to fuel and maintenance of school buses. 

However, Thomas cautioned the funding is “still not enough to do everything we want to do,” and said the district will still need to find areas of savings. In an explanation of the state’s school funding model, Thomas explained it includes an element that is based on local cost of living, which explains why districts in Teton County, for example, receive significantly more dollars per pupil than schools in Uinta County. 

Thomas said even with the picture for the next school year looking somewhat better than previous years, there are still many concerns and challenges, including the loss of a competitive advantage in new teacher recruitment.

According to Thomas, at one time the district, and the state in general, offered salaries and benefits that could lure new teachers. With the funding cuts, however, that advantage has been lost. Based on starting salaries for new teachers, the district now ranks 35th in the state; when benefits are included, the district ranks 19th.

“For new teachers, we’re just not competitive,” said Thomas, “and we’re falling further and further behind the competition.” 

Trustee Christa Barker asked about the district being top heavy in terms of administrative positions, noting that Evanston has more administrators than other districts, including Jackson. Thomas said he doesn’t believe the district is top heavy, although acknowledged he is an administrator and may be biased. 

Board chair Jami Brackin said the district is perceived as being top heavy and said if positions cuts were to be made, they would likely come from administration. Thomas said the past several years of budget cuts have resulted in staffing cuts, but to this point they have all been through attrition.

“There’s a point, and we’re there, when we can’t cut through attrition,” he said, noting that if the legislature continues to restrict education funding, more painful cuts would become necessary. 

Thomas said the final numbers for next school year’s funding will be known by the May board meeting. 

Following the general budget discussion, finances were discussed again when district food service director Terri Fowler approached the board and recommended an increase to school meals for next school year. Fowler said she recommends an increase of 25 cents per meal, both breakfast and lunch, due to increased costs. 

District financial officer John Williams said the district budgets about $180,000 from the general fund to pay for meals but has been exceeding that budget for the past several years. Fowler said the price increase would raise about $100,000 per year to offset that deficit to the general fund. The cost increase recommendation will be acted on by the board at the May meeting. 

Other business included departmental reports, including that of facilities and maintenance. John Davis, director of maintenance, said there will be some major reconstruction at Evanston High School over the summer break, much of which will be to open up the cafeteria to enable more students to eat lunch at the same time. Davis said the AMP room will be gone and part of the wall between the cafeteria and the AMP room will be removed. 

EHS Principal Merle Lester said that, although the renovations to the cafeteria will be taking place this summer, there will not be closed campus next school year and the lunch situation will remain as it is currently, which is closed for freshmen and sophomores and open for juniors and seniors. Lester said the plan is to use next year to adjust to the new class schedule and prepare for closed campus to begin the 2020-21 school year. 

Jaraun Davis, director of technology and facilities, said EHS will also be getting new tile and carpet throughout.

“The high school will have a really nice look,” he said. “There will be the high school logo in the tile just inside the main doors.” 

There will also be some external changes to facilitate easier entrance to the gymnasium area for school events, with the removal of some trees and the addition of a ramp to the area at the front of the building currently being used as the gymnasium entrance. Currently visitors to the school for gymnasium events are using one small door rather than the main entrance to the high school as part of the controlled access and security changes. Removing trees and adding a ramp will hopefully make that entrance more accessible to the public. 

Due to these major renovations, Evanston High School will be closed for the entirety of the summer other than entrance through the “jock lot” to the gymnasium that may remain open for student use. Dennis said EHS summer school will take place at Horizon High School. 

Davis shared his “wish list” for future maintenance projects, including a competing vision for a plan for soccer fields submitted by activities director Bubba O’Neill at the March meeting. Davis said he would like to see major improvements made at the Evanston Middle School field and track area, which is currently used for middle school football and track and high school soccer. 

Davis said that would allow for many Evanston students to benefit, including the couple hundred middle school students who participate in track. He estimates the cost of expanding the field to be used for soccer and improving the track would come at a cost of about $1.5 million. 

Thomas said the district is going to need to have many discussions and really consider options for field space. He said he doesn’t think an effort to pursue a bond with local voters is likely to pass in the current economic climate, but district officials and staff will have to look at reserves and research options to make decisions moving forward.

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