Trump’s proposed budget could cut local programs from schools

After School

BY KYNLI SMITH

The 21st Century Community Learning Center grant that funds after-school and summer programs for Big Horn County School District No. 4 could be cut based on President Donald Trump’s recently proposed budget.

Trump’s current budget would cut Department of Education funding by 13.5 percent or $9.2 million. About $1.2 billion would be cut from programs like 21st Century CLC and other after school and summer programs because “The program lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives as improving students achievement,” according to the proposal.

The budget, however, increases funding for charter schools by $168 million and allocates $250 million to a “new private school choice program.”

“The part that concerns me the most is that Trump states that our programs lack strong evidence of meeting our objectives, which is a false statement,” said School District Four 21CCLC project manager Amber DeGraw, adding, “Losing 21st CCLC funding would be devastating to our community and school district. As a parent of four children who participate in these programs, I know firsthand how much they help kids academically, socially and emotionally. If the funding is eliminated, I’m not sure that the school district would be able to keep our programs because of the drastic budget cuts that are happening now and in the future.”

A letter by local National Afterschool Alliance representative Jodi Grant, stated, “The Trump administration’s call for zero funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) after-school initiative is a betrayal of the millions of students and parents who depend on after-school and summer learning programs. This proposal would devastate working families. It is painfully shortsighted and makes a mockery of the President’s promise to make our country safer and to support inner cities and rural communities alike. This proposal would result in far fewer programs, diminished program offerings and gutting of the infrastructure that leverages support for after-school and summer learning programs from local museums, businesses, colleges and others. After-school programs make it possible for many parents to work; losing their after-school programs would jeopardize their ability to hold onto their jobs.”

Since the 1990s 21CCLC has been offering students and parents opportunities. Some of its objectives are: establishing community learning centers that help students in high poverty, low performing schools meet academic standards, offering high quality enrichment activities, and providing programs that engage the families of students.

According to DeGraw, over the last 15 years 21CClC programs have brought in around $1 million into four neighborhoods in the local community, which has helped more than 800 children.

“Students who attend our programs do better academically and develop more positive social skills,” DeGraw said.

She added that by offering programs free of charge, low-income families have benefited from more than $10 million in child care savings and have been able to enter and remain the workforce.

From drops in juvenile crime to better eating habits to students engaging in physical activities, DeGraw said the programs benefit the community as well as the students.

Since 2001, the local programs have employed more than 150 community members.

“If Trump’s cut to 21CCLC passes it would be extremely unfortunate, not just for Wyoming but for all other states,” said district superintendent Dave Kerby. “These programs provide opportunities for kids and for working parents.”

Kerby added that the programs are highly competitive and that most school districts cannot offer the programs in their operating budgets, which means they rely heavily on federal grants.

“These programs are known to raise graduation rates, help students become successful and build up confidence in students,” Kerby said.

The school district is currently in year three of a five-year federal grant, which awards, $96,496 annually. Once the grant expires the district would have to reapply. About 118 students are enrolled in the current programs.

At Laura Irwin Elementary, Beyond the Bell runs four days a week and has six employees, serving 55 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.

“Here we provide students with a healthy snack, and they have exercise time, a half an hour of homework time or math and reading supplemental material, and then a STEM based activity, which improves student knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math,” said DeGraw.

At Cloud Peak Middle School, Afterschool Adventures runs four days a week and employs two, serving 22 students in grades five through eight.   

At Riverside High School, Zero Hour and Power Hour runs four days a week and employs one. Zero Hour serves about 18 students and Power Hour serves more than 20 students.

“Zero Hour is our weightlifting and health program, which encourages student health and wellness and reduces school truancy,” said DeGraw. “During Power Hour students receive one-on-one help with school studies, which increases students’ grades and encourages students to get assignments turned in on time, which in turn increases graduation rates and college readiness.”

If programs like these lose their funding, 10 people in the community could lose their jobs.

DeGraw and others are asking for people in the community to take action and contact Wyoming U.S. Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi and U.S. Representative Liz Cheney.

For more information about 21CCLC or how to get involved, contact DeGraw at amber.degraw@bgh4.k12.wy.us.

“If these programs are eliminated because of funding, the direct impact it will have is on our kids, which in turn affects our community,” said DeGraw. “Less students will turn in homework. Less students will have the opportunity to have extra STEM activities to participate in, which challenges their intellect and increases school test scores. Less students will get a healthy snack and have a safe place to go after school. More parents will be worried about where their children are and what they are doing after school, and ultimately, it’s our kids that suffer.

“We need everyone’s support. Please contact our congressmen or contact me if you want to know how you can further support our programs.”

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School board discusses early closing of Cloud Peak

Cloud Peak

BY BARBARA ANNE GREENE

A portion of the March 14 board meeting of the Big Horn County School District Four Board of Trustees was dedicated to audience participation, including listing the pros and cons of closing the Cloud Peak School two years early.

The students and staff would be moved to Riverside High School and Laura Irwin Elementary. More than 40 people were in attendance.

The district could save $700,000 by closing Cloud Peak at the end of this school year, according to business manager Andy DeGraw. The savings would be used toward the new buildings or toward budget shortfalls caused by recalibration cuts that will come down in the next few months.

“A detailed summary of the savings is not available at this time as it involves staff positions,” DeGraw said.

The board has received letters regarding the possible school closure from staff, parents and community members. All of the letters but one were in favor of the closure. The one letter that wasn’t for closure asked for clarification on why the district was getting new schools. Copies of the letters were shared with those in attendance.

Audience members were asked to call out pros and cons for the closure while board members Kristen Schlattmann and Greg Gloy wrote them on flip charts. The comments were summarized in a document form that can be viewed on the school website and the Basin Area Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.

There was also a flip chart for other cost saving ideas, which included reduction of the square footage of the new schools and using money from the general fund.

All District Four staff members were asked to complete a survey and submit questions to the board about the closure, the operating cost of Cloud Peak, new building construction and budget cuts. These questions were asked and answered during the board meeting, as well.

A group of district staff met on March 10 to finalize the questions that were to be asked. Some of the questions focusing on the possible closure were about the lunchroom schedule, athletics (gym usage for four teams), the number of building principals, the combining of libraries, the moving of classrooms and whether it is in the best interest of the students and staff to move twice in three years.

There were also questions about the operating costs at Cloud Peak and whether the construction money could be used instead to fix the current buildings. A portion also gave suggestions for budget cuts, which included salary freezes, a four-day school week and selling the teacherages.

In addition to questions and suggestions, those in attendance stated this as a recommendation: “After meeting on Friday with staff from all three buildings, it is our recommendation that we keep Cloud Peak open until the new building is
finished.”

Another portion of the audience participation was a discussion with Michael Simmons, who is the facilities director at Big Horn County School District One. The District Four board decided at their last work meeting to invite Simmons to this meeting to share his insights into what District Four can do to move forward in pursuing the new buildings.

Simmons helped the district secure the funding for the new schools. He also went through the new building process with the Burlington and Rocky Mountain schools. Simmons has worked with the School Facilities Commission since its inception.

“Every time I meet with them there are new players,” he said. “Every time someone changes, the rules change.”

He also noted he doesn’t have any magical silver bullets with the state or the commission but does have experience very similar to what this district is going through with shortfalls in budgets.

He gave the board four options. 1. Proceed on current course; 2. Go back to the state and ask for more money; 3. Litigate.

Simmons noted that he has talked to some general contractors in the state that feel it is becoming a more favorable bidding environment because the School Facilities Department has no money for new building projects. Since SFD is a major player the Wyoming construction game the cost will likely go down.

He also discussed that 10 years ago Big Horn District One went the litigation route regarding an auditorium for the new elementary school in Cowley. It delayed their building project by seven years. They got nothing out of the litigation.

Simmons also discussed the threats of consolidation (Lovell and Rocky Mountain) at the time. This made his district nervous and they decided they have to get something in the ground. He added that the threat of consolidation is greater now than it was 10 years ago, especially with the shortage of money. He believes if that should that happen it would be sixth grade and up. Any talk he heard about it in this year’s legislature was about county consolation.

The new schools in Rocky have students that came from buildings in three communities. Frannie had the elementary school, Deaver the middle school and Bryon the high school.

Board chair Audra Crouse requested that Simmons, if he had any comments or observations about the pros and cons discussion, to please make them known, as they might be the same as the ones about the Rocky Mountain Schools heard from the community and staff.  Before doing so he noted that even though the reasons for new schools are not to create economic development, it has done so in Cowley. It is the fastest growing community in Wyoming, growing 17 percent in 10 years.

During the pros and cons portion Simmons noted that the elective participation went up, they got classes back, there were more choices for the students and there were no issues between elementary school and high school students, which had been one of the concerns voiced about the closure of Cloud Peak.

Construction shortfall

DeGraw used a flip chart to show the audience the breakdown. He said it would provide a snapshot of the basic itemization of where the district is with the construction. The overall budget for the new building is $31 million. The rough breakdown is $27 million in construction and $4 million in professional services (architecture, owner’s rep, abatement). The demo of the old buildings is part of the construction numbers.

“The estimates at 35 percent are roughly $27.5 million. We have a $500,000 shortfall at 35 percent cost estimates. The enhanced foundation will require piers because of expansive soils. It’s not the water table. The estimate is $1.7 million,” DeGraw said.

Essential add-backs was another item DeGraw discussed.

“It’s been well-publicized that we have been required to cut really basic items out of the project,” he said, showing the board an itemized list including bleachers. The only ones scheduled for the building are the ones taken from Cloud Peak. Other items included no window treatments, no floor mats in hallways, no track, etc. If those items are added up it comes to $700,000.

Other add-backs he listed are items that other schools have gotten but are more cosmetic in nature.

“We can get by without them, but if you are looking at the basket of goods in what has been provided to other districts there is another $300,000 roughly in items that we feel we ought to have,” he said.

When the items are added up there is roughly a $3.2 million shortfall, DeGraw said.

Community input

Crouse is asking for additional community input at a March 28 work meeting at 5 p.m. at RHS. She hopes that prior to the meeting people will review the posted pros and cons list for the closure of Cloud Peak as well as think of other ways that the budget shortfall can be reached without the early closure. Any and all ideas should be brought to that meeting.

In other business March 14:

•Administrative contracts were reviewed and portions of them were approved.

•Certified teacher recommendations were acted upon. Some contracts were not renewed.

•Principal, business manager, safety, superintendent and building reports were presented.

•Committee reports for BOCES, Save the Gym and recreation board were given.

•The 2017-18 school year calendar was approved.

•A non-resident application and isolation transportation application request were reviewed.

•An executive session was held to discuss personnel.

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Hospital investigation currently underway

hospital

BY KYNLI SMITH

An investigation regarding patient safety issues and possible violations of state and federal regulations is currently underway at South Big Horn Count Hospital District, according to a recent press release issued by the district.

According to the release, in February the hospital and its board became aware of “serious patient safety issues” and an internal investigation was conducted. The investigation reportedly verified the existence of significant issues, and appropriate law enforcement was notified immediately. The hospital has cooperated with an ongoing investigation.

“Due to state and federal regulations, SBHCHD cannot comment further at this time about the specifics of the investigation. Whenever possible, more information will be made available,” the release states.

In light of two physician assistants and a medical doctor resigning in the past week, the hospital states it regrets the resignation of those providers but is working diligently to hire full-time physicians who are willing to relocate to the area.

According to the release, SBHCHD has hired a new physician, Andrew Roberts, DO and has recently extended an offer to another. More physician interviews are scheduled in the upcoming weeks.

The hospital also addresses concerns and rumors that have been floating around the community the past few weeks.

“Numerous inaccurate statements have been circulating in the community about SBHCHD and we want to clarify that SBHCHD is not being closed, and is not being sold or taken over by another entity. Rumors to the contrary are completely false. The actions mentioned in rumors haven’t even been pondered by the Board of Trustees, let alone discussed and voted on in an open meeting as required by Wyoming Statute,” the release states.

The hospital states that allegations of staff dissatisfaction are false as demonstrated in the March 1, anonymous survey completed by staff. According to the survey, 12 percent of employees are unhappy or very unhappy.

“SBHCHD staff and management have worked diligently over the past year to ensure the hospital is best able to meet patient needs and be in compliance with state and federal regulations. Recent changes are the result of this effort and to ensure our hospital is able to serve future generations. The hospital remains financially viable, adequately staffed, and able to meet the needs of the community. We appreciate your patience and understanding while we make the necessary changes. We are committed to providing all patients safe and quality care,” the release states.

The SBHCHD board will meet for its monthly meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 22.

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