EVANSTON — Contention swept through the May 9 school board meeting as a few controversial topics came to the table.
The day before the meeting, RaeAnne Belnap shared a letter with the trustees and on the Facebook group OUR KIDS-OUR CHOICE, disputing the suspension of Uinta Meadows Elementary special education case manager Josh Anderson.
In her letter, Belnap laid out her most recent experience with Anderson, saying he had neglected to fulfill her daughter’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) for some months, but that after meeting with Anderson and the teacher, Belnap was satisfied with the plan going forward. The following day, though, she discovered Anderson had been suspended.
Assuming the suspension was connected to the previous day’s meeting, Belnap next met with Superintendent Ryan Thomas. Upon learning that UME has 68 students with IEPs, Belnap wondered how those students would be served for the rest of the year (Anderson had already submitted his resignation but committed to finishing out the year). She also accused Thomas of suspending Anderson due to a “personal vendetta,” citing Anderson’s complaint to the Office of Civil Rights last year about the underserving of district ELL students.
Belnap’s letter spurred board chair Cassie Torres to ask school district attorney Geoffrey Phillips to explain the rules about teacher suspensions, termination and dismissal before the board opened public comments.
“… teachers are probably the most protected occupation in the state of Wyoming,” Phillips said, “… and I think that’s a good thing.”
Teachers are contracted annually, but there are two classes of teacher: initial and continuing contract. The district is free not to renew an initial contract; after three years, the teacher becomes tenured.
Phillips said a school district has three choices for disciplining a teacher: suspension (the employee is temporarily relieved of duties but is expected to return), termination (the teacher’s contract will not be renewed at the end of the contract term) and dismissal (the teacher is fired before the contract term expires).
The state of Wyoming requires certain criteria and procedures for teacher discipline (those criteria are available at https://tinyurl.com/lwgdw58).
“In 2011, the legislature changed the statutes and included the option that the superintendent can suspend a teacher with pay for 30 days pending an investigation,” Phillips said.
If the investigation discovers wrongdoing, the superintendent may recommend a discipline to the board, and the board would hold a Loudermill hearing where the employee can respond to the allegations.
Phillips said the district must prove the allegations; however, he said that even though teachers are “extraordinarily protected,” students and other employees need protection as well.
Torres asked the public to refrain from commenting about any district employee, asking those wanting to make such a statement to send it to Thomas first.
Michael Dericott, a former UCSD No. 1 employee, was first to speak. He said he taught in Evanston for a few years but had not yet attained continuing contract status when his principal said Dericott’s contract would not be continued, giving no good reason for the decision. Dericott said he resigned because he felt forced to resign.
At this point, Phillips interjected, asking Dericott to submit the complaint in writing instead of airing the grievance in public, as his allegations were against a specific district employee. Torres agreed, saying the district has an obligation to protect its employees.
Belnap spoke next, saying that the board has generally been unresponsive to her emails in the last two years.
She reiterated some of the points from her letter to the board, then, beginning to cry, said she believes it is unjust to hold only one team member accountable when a team was involved.
When Belnap began to accuse Thomas of seeking action against Anderson for filing the ELL complaint, Torres used her gavel to stop the discussion. Belnap finished by saying she will pull her daughter out of school next year.
Megan Lyman, saying she is single mother and a nontenured teacher in her fourth year at UCSD No. 1, asked for a better protocol when not continuing a teacher’s contract.
“That’s my concern — that, as nontenured employees, we sometimes feel like we’re used up, chewed up and spit out. We put in some of the longest hours in the district,” she said. “I myself have actually taught for 17 years. I’m an experienced teacher; I have excellent marks on all my evaluations and observations. I would like to see some kind of protocol that secures my understanding of my assignment.”
Next, Collette Lake told the board this is the second year in a row with retaliation at the end of the school year.
“As a parent right now, I don’t feel that central admin has my kids’ best interests at heart,” she said. “… And I am just begging you, do not make me get up and do this again for a third year in a row. This is ridiculous. Evanston is better than this. Our kids deserve better than this.”
The public comments ended with a moment of uncomfortable silence before the board moved to the second draft of the budget estimate.
Thomas said the budget is $99,000 in the good, but this represents attrition of 13 teachers. The schools are still shuffling somewhat.
The board discussed having a district climate survey at the end of the year, this time with a free platform (instead of spending $15,000 like last year for the community-wide paper survey). Thomas said assistant superintendent Doug Rigby found a nationwide survey with data from other school districts.
Tammy Walker also asked that the school district use the same survey (or at least questions) from last year’s survey to track progress.
The last discussion item was a laser printer for Davis Middle School, which will cost $17,470 but is expected to last 12-15 years and will replace an outdated printer.
The board then moved on to the action items. It extended three contracts, social studies and math curriculum purchases, the EMS roof repair bid for $79,850 from Alta Construction (the district had initially estimated the roof would cost $120,000 but requested and received $150,000 from the state, expecting higher costs), a food service van bid for $46,726 and special education contracts.
Thomas said the insurance committee recommended splitting the higher costs between employees and the school district. The board tabled the vote until the June 6 meeting (after negotiations). Thomas also said the insurance committee recommended going back out to bid for insurance companies, although he said he hopes Aetna will put in a bid again.
Much to the trustees’ shock and amusement, the agenda included the City of Evanston land swap. Several trustees thought they had already approved the swap (and the Evanston Youth Club for Boys and Girls is already building on the property).
After a short discussion about the value of the property trade — the school district is getting more acreage, but the city is getting more value — the board officially approved the land swap.
During the round table, the board thanked graduating student representative Kelsey Diaz for her time on the board. Thomas also showed a video about the blended learning initiative, as UCSD No. 1 has been recognized at the Personalized Learning Summit in San Francisco for personalized learning. In the video, technology director Jaraun Dennis said there has been a 140 percent increase in reading and 146 percent increase in math since implementing the initiatives. The video is available on www.uinta1.com.