ROCK SPRINGS – For over a year, there has been a lot of focus on employment at Sweetwater County School District No. 1. At the end of the board meeting on Monday night, Superintendent Kelly McGovern spoke to those in attendance about the issue.
For almost two years, the district has been looking at and making cuts, not only in workforce, but across the board. The school board and the administration has been very vocal the 2015-2016 school year was going to be a very difficult one financially and despite making cuts in several places, the district continues to face the realization there is still an approximate $2 million shortfall in the budget.
A lot of the hardship has been due to a state mandate that school districts in Wyoming have to meet a 16 student to one teacher ratio. New schools have been built to meet the mandate and it is important to remember the state flipped the bill on the construction of these new schools but it has been the district’s responsibility to staff and provide the other necessities needed in the buildings. Each time a new school has been scheduled to come online, the district has always set aside money in anticipation of this but by law can only have a certain amount of money in reserves which has hampered districts around the state.
To continue to make up this shortfall, several employees of the district were told last week their positions were going to be eliminated. After all business was done Monday, McGovern opened up about the issue.
“I wanted to speak about an issue which has been on the hearts and minds of the community and that is the reduction of the work force throughout the district,” McGovern opened.
First and foremost, McGovern wanted everyone in attendance to know these decisions were not being made overnight and they have tried many things to avoid doing this. She said several times during her address these decisions have not been made lightly.
Making these decision have been “very, very difficult” and McGovern added the district understands these said decisions deeply affect local families, buying groceries and filling up at the gas pump.
The district knew some of the struggles were coming due to a state mandate which is requiring districts to meet the 16 students to one teacher ratio for Kindergarten through third-grade classrooms across the state. McGovern said the district knew they would need to have these classrooms available.
Not only that, but McGovern said they also were well aware they would need quality staff to lead those classrooms. She explained every parent wants the absolute best for their children and the district also wants what is best for the students. This includes staffing those rooms with the best quality teachers they can find.
While the state ratio mandates are for Kindergarten through third-grade classrooms in the state, McGovern took it further and discussed the fourth through 12th-grade classrooms in the district. She explained the district has policies which dictate classroom sizes in these upper grades. She questioned if it is fair and if it is in the best interest of the students to tell the fourth-grade teachers they have to teach classrooms with 35 students.
“We have been blessed with so many amenities in Sweetwater One,” McGovern said as she pointed to the technology advantages and facilities the local students have. “We have to do what is best for the students. Is what is best for the students to have 35 students in one classroom? I think we can all agree we can’t have that.”
While not diminishing the importance of the roles of the paraprofessionals in the district by any means, McGovern also wanted to put to rest the idea only the paraprofessionals were being affected.
She was quick to say this district has been blessed with some of the best paraprofessionals in the entire state and said they are very aware the paraprofessional force has been cut by 40 percent. McGovern explained it has not only been the paraprofessionals affected. She said there are many technology positions which have been eliminated and open positions which will not be filled. She said the maintenance department is sorely understaffed and there are many of these positions which will not be filled. She also said the custodial staff has been doing their best without several positions the district will not be filling.
Again, McGovern was quick to point out these decisions have been very difficult because everyone understands the hardships these decisions are having on many local families.
“The district does not take these decisions lightly by any means because we know behind these decisions a child is affected,” she said.
McGovern also said there will probably be future decisions made as they continue to go forward. She said it is important to remember things need to be looked at differently now in the district and there is also an importance for communication with everyone involved moving forward.
In closing, McGovern said every employee needs to know they are very much appreciated and that includes those affected by the changes made. She urged those affected to “please stay connected” with the district.
“We really need certified subs rights now,’ McGovern exclaimed. “As other positions become available, please apply for them.”