Natrona Library Hosts Forum for School Board Candidates
On Wednesday, the Casper League of Women voters hosted a candidate forum for the 15 people running for the Natrona County School District board of trustees.
All the candidates showed up, along with a crowd of around 60 people.
The candidates were asked questions ranging from their philosophy on school board issues to their thoughts on improving the special language program.
When asked how each would navigate budget shortfalls, many focused on the need to avoid eliminating teacher positions, while others said they would make sure to cut wasteful programs.
Darren Hopman, who moved to Casper in 2007, said that having a four-day school week could help students and the budget.
"I've seen in multiple school districts, even in the school district I went to school growing up, moved to a four-day school week," Hopman said. "That was a very impactful thing to happen. It reduces the number of jobs that are lost in that situation. It also has a tendency to see test scores for children improve."
Arthur Youngberg, who's worked in the trade business, said that the district could maybe save costs on the transportation side of things.
"We have to figure out why people are bussing all these kids around, diesel is $7 a gallon sometimes, that's a good way to cut costs," Youngberg said. "We've got to figure out our school system because every school should be a good school to send your kids to."
Fatima Bujosa, who moved to Casper from Tampa Florida, and whose kids went to Kelly Walsh High School, said that she doesn't want to lose teachers and that a four-day school can have its issues.
"As long as the decrease in the budget, which the budget always affects everything we don't lose teachers," Bujosa said. "I do like the four-day school, but we've also got to be careful with that because a lot of parents have to work five days a week, so who's going to watch my child when I have to work."
Kevin Christopherson, who was on the school board for eight years before leaving in 2020, said that they've been able to cut the budget without laying people off.
"I'm not opposed to the four-day either, we did that out at Midwest and it worked really well," Christopherson said. "I've gone through major budget cuts and we successfully did it without laying off one employee, and we did that by employing all sorts of methods that I don't have the time to tell you here, but just let you know I've been through that before and it's not my goal to lay anyone off. Also, there are programs that can always be cut."
Tina Dean, who has lived in Wyoming for 40 years and in Casper for 12, said she likes the idea of a four-day school week.
"I guess I wouldn't want to sacrifice what the students get, the extracurricular activities as previously stated," Dean said. "It's very important to them. I like your idea of a four-day school week, that's pretty great because I know a lot of adults want to do that with work and then there would be more family time, three day weekend, that sounds awesome to me."
Jenifer Hopkins, who's lived in Casper for 32 years and is one of three members of the group Moms for Liberty that is running for school board, gave a short answer.
"I think I would look at the top of it at the district office and do away with non-essentials."
Ryan Landmann, who taught theater for 16 years in Southern California before moving to Casper, said if budget cuts are made he wants to make sure it doesn't impact the staff.
"I think the way I'd like to see it done is not affecting students, or teachers or eliminating that and anybody that works in the school district," Landmann said. "Trying to decrease the budget in ways that are not affecting employment or people while still maintaining the quality of education and while that doesn't necessarily answer the question because it's vague. But my goal would be to not eliminate jobs."
Debbie McCullar, who is a current trustee, said that they made sure to plan ahead when she started so they wouldn't have issues with the budget.
"When I started on the board, we had a bust economy, and we had a three-year plan so that we wouldn't have a big cliff that we would drop off," McCullar said. "So that we were able to accomplish our goals over the three-year period. So I would hope that just downsizing would keep things in the school."
Joseph Porambo, who lost a race for the U.S. Senate in 2014, said he would look to cut any of the unnecessary jobs he can find.
"I would agree with a lot of what I've heard today," Porambo said. "The thing is downsizing. We've got less students, we have less to do. We can cut, we can downsize. I walk in the district office and I see five, six people sitting at desks right there at the entryway. I'm not sure what their jobs are. Again this is another thing, until I get in there, I really don't know what's absolutely necessary and what isn't."
Renea Redding, who started going to school board meetings a year and a half ago and is also a part of Moms for Liberty, said that the district shouldn't increase the budget if there are fewer students.
"If enrollment declines, the budget should not increase, which is what the school board did," Redding said. "They increased our budget and enrollment has declined. So if you look at the actual budget in our school, frivolous spending. There are a lot of fees that none of us know about until you actually look at the budget, and I think we need to look at that."
Mary Schmidt, who has six kids that have been or are a part of the district and is a member of Moms for Liberty, said that the district shouldn't have federal funds so it can have less staff.
"Based off the bureaucracy and the requirements the federal government puts on our district, I would start at the district level and start cutting federal requirements and bureaucracy and that would probably reduce some staff."
Kianna Smith, who's currently a trustee member, said that she's looked at various ways to cut the budget and thinks there might be some programs that can be cut.
"As far as bussing, I actually did an in-depth analysis of that when I ran. We spend a comparable amount on bussing as Cheyenne does and they don't have open enrollment, so I don't believe that would be a place to find cuts," Smith said. "We also have done quite a few cuts at the administrative level, so I don't know if there'd be much more to cut there, but we can look at it. I agree with Debbie and Kevin, I think downsizing is always good and it's easy to plan for that usually. And there are always programs usually that can be cut."
Michael Stedillie, who has taught for 48 years in schools and still works as a substitute teacher, said that they should avoid cutting activities or things that would hurt students or staff.
"I don't want to cut anything, but pragmatically there might be cuts that have to be made here and there," Stedillie said. "I have to agree with Lisa that's something that has to be studied and not a quick knee-jerk thing. But we need a balance between academics and activities. Activities are the other half of education. I don't want to cut anything that's going to hurt kids and I certainly don't want to cut the faculty and the staff because they're the ones doing the work. Start with transportation, for the committee to come up with other ideas."
Bernie Studer, who has worked in a variety of fields, thinks that the district should look to cut as many jobs as possible.
"Any enterprise hires labor, that's the biggest cost. I don't know the budget for labor in the school district, but I would guess it's around 30 to 40%," Studer said. "If we follow the Pareto principle, 76% of the people need to go. And if you're not familiar with that, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. If we follow Jack Wells, the former CEO of General Electric, he got rid of 10% of the people at the end of every year. It's a hard choice"
Lisa Cornia Taylor, who's worked as a teacher for 27 years and is a recently retired English teacher, said that because she hasn't worked for the board she isn't sure where she would cut costs.
"My answer is I don't know. As I've never been on a school board before and I've looked at lots of policies, I've looked at budgets, I've looked at a lot of things, but never with that lens before," Taylor said. "So my answer is I'd have to see. We'd have to look very carefully at every little thing to see what we could do. And with goals of not hurting students and not laying off teachers and not doing all those things."