Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Cindy Glasson
Reporter & Photographer 

Concerned parents, students address school budget cuts


A number of parents and students were in attendance at the Tuesday night meeting of the Hot Springs County School District’s Board of Directors, having heard rumors that certain programs were going to be eliminated for the upcoming school year.

Before opening the floor to public comment, board chair Nichole Weyer read a statement from the board asking people to understand that no assumptions should be made about certain programs based on whether or not a teacher is retained or let go.

Weyer said the board has had to make some very tough decision this year as the legislature has cut funding to the tune of one full-time teaching position. In addition, the legislature has frozen transportation funding and the district is looking at having to cut $300,000 out of their budget this year and an additional $280,000 next year.

Even after approaching the legislatures with alternative solutions, their solution was to cut funding to education all across the state. Obviously, the legislature’s answer is to cut the funding for our children’s future, she added.

Weyer went on to say they are still looking at every angle for budget cuts, which may include reductions in staffing, but they do not want to have to cut programs. In larger school districts they may have two or three staff running a single program, so cutting one of those staff members doesn’t affect the program. However, in small districts, like Hot Springs County, the cutting of one staff member can mean the loss of an entire program.

While programs will probably be discussed at the April meeting, Weyer said Tuesday’s meeting was to discuss staff only. She went on to suggest everyone contact our state legislators regarding the cuts, going so far as to offer a comprehensive list of all senators and representatives, their phone numbers, mailing address and email address.

Superintendent Dustin Hunt addressed the issue as well, saying if members of the public, and especially students, contact these legislators, to be sure to include a personal side to the letter such as what a certain program has meant to them or how a certain program helped them attain their life’s goals.

After telling the board about the upcoming plans for bringing artists into the schools in the coming year, Jacky Wright, on behalf of the Greater Learning Foundation, urged folks to write their representatives in Washington as well since they are looking at cutting federal funding for both the arts and humanities, programs the Foundation uses to help fund the programs they bring into the schools.

On a brighter note, the revamping of the food service for the district is having very positive results.

Roughly half of the meals being prepared are done completely from scratch or at least a portion of them are and costs are way down. In fact, the food service department is under budget and lower than it was at this time last year.

Students in all the buildings are enjoying lunch time and even at the high school the a’la carte sales have gone up.

One of the things the board is going to have to look at is upgrading some of the kitchen equipment. Most of the equipment is anywhere from eight to 12 years old. Staff is currently looking at an auction site where they can sell some of the unused kitchen items and possibly use the money from those sales for upgrades.

The board also reviewed the annual audit done by Michel, Wright and Associates with Michael Wright.

While the district is in compliance, there are a few issues that are always present, one of which is a weakness in internal controls. The problem is created by having a small staff, something other entities in the county deal with as well, not just the school district.

According to Wright, they also found some inconsistencies with how grant funds were spent for the after school program.

Some items were purchased that do not fall under the allowances of the grant and there were also some missing receipts.

To eliminate this, the coordinator for LightsOn has been included in discussions regarding the grant monies and has a better idea of how they must be spent.

Wright does not see any problem at this time, as a letter has already been sent to the grantor with a plan on corrective measures. He indicated grantors rarely ask for money back, but its best to have a plan in writing going forward.


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