SCSD9 makes move to retain, attract staff

BIG PINEY – Recognizing the value of existing staff and the need to attract quality candidates to fill vacancies, the Sublette County School District No. 9 Board of Trustees unanimously approved a staff recruitment and retention plan on Jan. 18.

District Superintendent Dr. Charles Jenks developed the proposal to “stabilize the local education workforce.”

The plan provides two bonus stipends to all district faculty and staff, paid in March and December 2022, as recognition for the hard work employees put in during the pandemic, Jenks explained.

New teachers and staff will receive a sign-on bonus through the 2023-2024 academic year to attract future recruits to teach and work in Big Piney and LaBarge schools.

Jenks’ proposal addressed the shortage in bus drivers and raised transportation salaries by $5.00 an hour, making bus driver pay “more competitive” and comparable to starting wages paid by Sublette County School District No. 1, he added.

The plan also set aside money to create mental health and wellness activities and support for district staff.

The district will fund the recruitment and retention plan from a portion of the approximately $800,000 in American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) dollars set aside for SCSD9, Jenks said.

In response to a clarification from trustee Cody Raza, Jenks explained ARP ESSER monies only cover the cost to increase bus driver pay for two academic years. Beyond that point, the district would have to come up with money from its own budget.

Jenks encouraged the district to maintain the bus driver wage hike after federal funding ends as the “right thing to do” because transportation wages in SCSD9 significantly lagged behind other districts.

Legislative report – brighter prospects for education funding

State Rep. Albert Sommers attended the Jan. 18 board meeting to update trustees on the state legislature.

Wyoming’s financial situation improved significantly from May 2020, when the legislature faced a $1-billion deficit at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sommers said.

This year, the state legislature was looking at a surplus of approximately $1 billion, including an $800-million uptick in the general fund, Sommers added.

Sommers highlighted his belief that the legislature would not cut the education budget this session, and education funding was “safe for a couple of years.”

Wyoming benefited from between $500 and $600 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, Sommers said. The increase in the general fund was partly due to $300 million in revenue from higher prices in natural gas, some money from oil and a “considerable” rise in sales and use taxes, Sommers added.

While revenues were still not back to pre-pandemic levels, Sommers told trustees school districts could “breathe a sigh of relief” and plan on getting extra funding.

Additional news

The board voted to amend Policy GBI, related to staff participation in political activities. Trustees also looked at changes to policies in distribution of non-school sponsored materials and political campaigns, as well as activities and academic freedom.

The latter three items were for information only, and the trustees did not take action at the Jan. 18 meeting.

Jenks explained the policy changes arose during this year’s Wyoming School Board Association Conference in response to concerns over teaching politically divisive issues.

The policies encourage civil, healthy discussion among students but provide guidelines for faculty to present the topics and moderate discussions from a politically “neutral” standpoint and allow equal representation.

Jenks presented a draft of the 2022-2023 school calendar as an information item for the board. The board will vote on a final draft of the calendar in coming months.

The calendar was “thoroughly vetted” by staff and administration in the district, he added. The district was looking into ways to synchronize the end of the fall semester and beginning of the spring semester with winter break.

The draft calendar included the same starting date for the academic year in August, and several days of school after Memorial Day before summer break along with a two-week winter break as suggested by staff.

Following an executive session, the board voted unanimously to offer a contract to Jenks as district superintendent and Amy Anschutz as chief financial officer for the 2022-2023 school year.


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