EVANSTON — The Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees held its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, March 1, when board members heard department reports from the activities and facilities and technology departments, including an update on the Evanston High School field renovation project.
Activities director Bubba O’Neill shared accomplishments of the 2021-22 school year, specifically focusing on the board’s approval of the field and track renovations at EHS, which will allow soccer teams to play on their home field for the first time in the approximately two decades of their existence. The new field will be turf and wide enough to allow for soccer games, while the track will also be completely replaced.
O’Neill said usage on the existing grass field has been extremely limited over the years because constant use destroys the grass. A turf field, however, can be used approximately 7,000 times over the life of the field. O’Neill explained that will allow usage for the football and soccer teams for games and practice, summer football camp, marching band, Special Olympics, graduation, gym classes and other community events.
During the facilities and technology presentation, facilities director Jaraun Dennis said the field renovation project is proceeding on schedule, with plans in place for Searle Bros. to start dirt work between the existing field and the neighboring LDS church so that work on the field can begin as soon as the weather allows.
In addition to the field project update, O’Neill spoke of the huge numbers of students throughout the district who participate in activities from sports to cheer to drama to robotics. He shared numbers from the school year thus far, including 1,794 activity registrations at the high school, 525 at Evanston Middle School and 890 at Davis Middle School. As there are not that many students enrolled at any of those schools, the activity registration numbers indicate individual students are participating in multiple activities throughout the school year.
O’Neill also explained some upcoming changes to sports, noting that local cross country, swimming, golf and wrestling will be changed from 4A to 3A conference for next school year, joining football. He said those classifications are based strictly on numbers of students. Volleyball, basketball and track will remain 4A. He also addressed the possibility of adding fast-pitch softball and said he is certainly not opposed to the idea and would like to see a strong feeder program through the Evanston Rec Center to ensure there are enough girls with the experience and interest in playing.
O’Neill also spent some time discussing the impact of activities on the community as a whole.
“We try hard to be good community partners,” he said, emphasizing he “great” relationship the district has with the Evanston Parks and Recreation District. He said homecoming and the EHS Hall of Fame events held the same weekend have exploded in popularity. “I guarantee this school district cares about everyone in the community,” he said, while also pointing out the economic and community benefits of events hosted locally.
Discussing other facilities projects, Dennis also highlighted some of the accomplishments of the past year, including upgrading the entire district phone system and replacing 464 phones. To provide details on some of the routine work in the district that may go unnoticed, he pointed out that sincethe beginning of July last year, 2,879 packages had been delivered across the district and 10,948 pieces of mail had been sent out as of the date of the board meeting. The district had had 5,784 reams of paper delivered, along with 5,724 rolls of toilet paper and 1,530 rolls of paper towels. Up to that point, 6,650 pounds of ice melt had been used. He also pointed out that custodians clean 468 rooms across the district every day.
Projects planned for the 2022-23 school year include a new playground at Uinta Meadows Elementary, a flooring project at Davis Middle School, locker room renovations at EHS, a $3 million water project at the high school, a new sound system for the DMS auditorium and field lighting for the newly renovated EHS field, among other projects.
Dennis said the majority of school buildings in the district were constructed in the 1980s, so they are approximately 30-40 years old. Consequently, there are many projects that will need to be completed in coming years as the buildings continue to age. According to Dennis, the projects he anticipates will need to be completed over the next six years amount to about $13.5 million. Each year the district receives about $2.3 million in major maintenance funds for such projects.
Dennis sang the praises of facilities and custodial staff for the “tremendous” job they do maintaining all district buildings.
District special education director Matt Williams spoke with trustees about attending the Wyoming School Board Association Legislative Forum and specifically about meeting with State Sen. Wendy Schuler.
“I want to give Sen. Schuler kudos on the role she’s taking in the state representing Uinta County. There are some bills on the docket that are concerning and I appreciate the data-informed positions Sen. Schuler takes,” said Williams.
Superintendent Ryan Thomas also spoke about bills pending before the Wyoming Legislature, including several he described as concerning. Thomas said the budget bills as of March 1 did not contain an external cost adjustment for salaries in the funding model. “Inflation is the highest it’s been in 40 years,” said Thomas, “but there’s no ECA currently in the model and that is significantly impacting us.”
Thomas said he is also concerned about Senate File 32, which would require K-3 reading assessments for learning disabilities. Thomas said the bill sounds great on the surface but it takes away local control and could result in problems for the district because they already have screening programs in place and have spent millions of dollars on professional development for staff to conduct those screenings and work with students in need. If SF32 were to pass and the state opts to adopt a different screening program than what the district already has in place, all the resources and time devoted to the existing program would be wasted.
Other concerning bills include Senate File 62, the so-called Civics Transparency Bill, which would mandate that all teachers at all grade levels post every resource used in the classroom at any point online for public access. Thomas said this is again an example of something that sounds like a good idea but would place a huge burden on teachers, negatively impact flexibility in classrooms and take away local control over curriculum. He said teachers have to follow the locally approved curriculum but they also need some academic freedom.
“We have students who ask questions that need to be answered factually,” he said, noting that “the idea of individual teachers being liable for what they teach is dangerous.” Thomas encouraged the board and staff to reach out to legislators about bills impacting education.
In other business, trustees also opted to hold a special meeting on Friday, March 4, to review bids for physical therapy services for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year. The district previously requested proposals for those services and two bids were received; however, Thomas said there were some questions the district would like the bidding providers to answer prior to awarding a contract. The board opted not to wait until the April meeting because spring sports are to begin prior to that time and they desire to have a contract in place when those sports begin their seasons.