School board votes to include indoor track in athletics program

Bus drivers still needed

By Lisa Phelps
Posted 4/24/24


After a failed motion to postpone the vote until after the fiscal year, Platte County School District No. 1 board of trustees voted last Monday, 4-1, to approve the addition of …

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School board votes to include indoor track in athletics program

Bus drivers still needed


After a failed motion to postpone the vote until after the fiscal year, Platte County School District No. 1 board of trustees voted last Monday, 4-1, to approve the addition of indoor track to the 2024-25 athletics program. Board members Chase Irvine and Connie Eller were absent from the meeting. Amanda Fox was the single “no” vote.

Speaking in support of the indoor track program, junior Desirae Iacovetto told the board the indoor track season would help keep her in shape for outdoor track season. She has traveled to Douglas to participate in their indoor track for the last three years and claims it has made a difference in her performance for Wheatland High School's track team. She has broken two school records so far this season for Wheatland: one as a team on the 4x100 relay, the other for the 200-meter dash. “I contribute my success to participating in indoor track. I would feel behind if I didn't have that, and I would like to compete for our school in my senior year,” Desirae said.

The indoor track season runs from January through March, and while Wheatland athletes have traveled to Laramie or Douglas to participate in their indoor track programs, WHSAA is changing their rules for how they determine 4A or 3A schools. Anita Iacovetto, Desirae's mom, explained at a school board workshop on April 8, this coming year the WHSAA is going to consider any school with 500 or more enrolled high school students to be considered 4A, and if Wheatland students competed at Douglas the WHSAA would combine the numbers for those two schools to make the enrollment determination. “Douglas doesn't really want to do that – they want to stay in 3A,” Anita said.

Athletic director Cedric Philo said there are more than 20 students who said they would be interested in participating in the program.

Fox said she was not against the program and did agree it would be a good opportunity for local athletes, but she is not comfortable with the increased cost to start up the program and keep it going. “There have been a lot of changes this year in our budget, and I'm not comfortable adding another thing to the list until I know exactly where we are financially [to support it],” Fox said.

After confirming there isn't an exact deadline to submit the request to the WHSAA, Fox cited business manager Jamie Wilson's report at the April 15 meeting stating next year's funding from the state will be reduced from this year, but the district hasn't been given the exact dollar amount by the state. Receipts are still coming in daily from the various programs in the district and while she can make estimates, there is no way to exactly pin down the final numbers for this year's expenditures until the end of the fiscal year. The initial fiscal report will be presented to the board in May. Wilson also said she is still in the middle of working with the state auditors and having budget meetings with principals and directors throughout the district, but she is confident the budget numbers will look good for the district.

Fox said there have also been big adjustments in the insurance costs, increased funds going to needed repairs to the school's buildings, added equipment costs, and an increase in wages across the board. “That's a lot of traffic and I'm about to get a speeding ticket...My brain does not track that fast,” Fox said, explaining she needs to see where the district is financially before she can vote to add something extra to the budget.

Fox also posed the question: “Where do we draw the line?”

She said she would prefer to make sure the basic things needed in the classrooms are covered first.

Fox made a motion to table the vote until after the fiscal year. The motion was seconded by trustee Dustin Kafka. With two board members absent, their absence is considered a “no” vote to table. Diane Haroldson, Shawn Hoffman, and Lu Lay voted “no” to the tabling motion, which failed, 2-5.

The subsequent motion made by Hoffman and seconded by Kafka to approve the addition of indoor track did pass (4-1).

According to Philo's presentation at the workshop, initial equipment costs, coach salaries, transportation costs, etc. would take approximately 1.5% of the current athletics budget. He concluded: the budget is there to cover the costs, though depending on the number of students interested in the program, there may be additional costs for coaching and transportation.

During the workshop, the board questioned transportation director Blaine Eppel about the added burden of transportation if they approved indoor track, and though he said they'd figure out a way to make it work, there is a shortage of bus drivers in the district.

Eppel reported there is still a shortage of bus drivers, a condition that has been plaguing the district for several years. Eppel said it has seemed, as soon as he is able to hire someone, another driver leaves. He said a big reason it is hard to get drivers is because you cannot have just a regular commercial driver's license and drive a school bus: you have to have special training and a bus/passenger endorsement. “It is extremely difficult to get people willing to go through the process,” Eppel explained.

The district currently reimburses costs associated with obtaining those certifications, but the training has only been available by driving to Cheyenne for training sessions. Eppel said he and Superintendent John Weigel have come up with a plan that may help get the drivers needed for the district: a “grow your own drivers” program.

“We need to do anything we can to get drivers trained and recruited,” Eppel said.

“The process is very complex: not difficult, but we have to do it,” Kafka said. “I am a remote pilot and it is easier get those certifications than [meeting the state's requirements to be a bus driver].”

Eppel explained they are working with Eastern Wyoming Community College to get Eppel and the transportation department mechanic certified to train for the required endorsements. Then they can locally train not only prospective bus drivers, but interested teachers, coaches, and parents so the district can have more endorsed drivers. There are passenger vehicles in addition to buses in the district's fleet that are used to transport students to activities, and having a larger pool of certified drivers will give more options when those activities are in multiple locations.

“The plan is to substitute the more experienced route drivers to do the longer trips, then parents don't have to worry about doing those,” Weigel clarified. He suggested parents may want to become certified so they could be paid to drive their child and teammates to sporting events. It could even be just for the season their child was involved in. “We want to take every opportunity to recruit folks,” he said.

Once final plans and policies are in place, the district will advertise training dates for bus drivers, possibly as early as June, Eppel said.

Despite transportation challenges, a majority of the board is in favor of adding indoor track, giving more options for students to participate in an extra-curricular activity and improve their skills and training time for the spring track season.

“There is an interest of 25 students, there may be more...I think it is a worthwhile endeavor for the investment. I am in favor of doing something the kids have interest in.” vice-chair Shawn Hoffman said.

“I think the kids have done a great job... I do not mean any disrespect for anybody...but that's where my mind is. The fiscal year ends a few weeks away. If the season doesn't start until January, why not wait and see?” Fox said.

“In light of the budget and the number of students this would affect, I think this is a good fit for us,” clerk Diane Haroldson said, adding a counter to Fox's concern about the budget, “We are at the point we may have too much in savings to hold over.”

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity for us. We have several participants even without it being a sport here yet. I like where the school is going. I know there have been a lot of changes, but a minimum of 22 kids want this, and I will help the kids,” chairman Lu Lay said.

“Obviously indoor track is a success and has been for several years...we're going to have to navigate some [budgeting issues], but I boil it down to this: my decision is made when I look at my son whose eyes get big-eyed when he hears about indoor track...at this moment I'm in favor of it,” Kafka concluded.

After last week's approval of adding the sport, the final okay for Wheatland's indoor track program for 2024-25 school year will be up to the WHSAA board of directors.

In other business...

School board members witnessed the graduation ceremony of Peak High School graduate Logan Hughes, conducted by PHS principal Cedric Philo. PHS students can graduate at any board meeting after satisfying graduation requirements set by the district.

Student council representatives from Wheatland High School present a report on successful fundraising for Make-A-Wish Foundation from February 12-17. The students said they wrote letters to businesses in town, partnered with Vimbo's to share profits on a specific day, and sold “blue stars” to students at school for $1 to post on the wall. They had a program in school where students donated coins, and the first-hour teacher couldn't start class until all the coins were counted. The student council also sponsored a bucket race in school as a competition between classes that was popular with students, in addition to fundraisers at a basketball game and dance. The student council had an original goal of $10,000 but ended up garnering $11,275 for Make-A-Wish.

“The previous record was in 2022 with $9,000. We wanted to say thank you to the businesses, students and parents who supported us,” the student council said.

Superintendent John Weigel reported to the board there is good progress toward filling open teaching positions in the district, and the board's decision to increase wages has helped in the recruitment process. He said as part of a multi-faceted approach to recruit teachers and help with staffing issues, he is partnering with student teachers at the university. “Last year it was hard to get people to apply. This year we've hired one special education teacher, and some other positions have interviews scheduled,” Weigel said. He attributed the increased interest to the interest-based-bargaining (IBB) agreement voted on by the board, stating, “We've made the base wage more competitive.”

He added he hopes the student teachers will like things in this school district enough to want to stay on and apply for open teaching positions in the future.

Principal Josh Sandlian, curriculum director for the district, has been working with the state for the district to be a participant in Governor Mark Gordon's RIDE (Re-Imagining the Delivery of Education) Initiative, and will be attending special training.

Confirmation was subsequently made last week: both Platte County School District No. 1 in Wheatland and Platte County School District No. 2 in Guernsey were selected as additional pilot schools (of nine total) for the program. The RIDE Initiative is designed to prepare students to be career-ready when they graduate, and to make Wyoming's primary and secondary schools academic leaders in the nation. Sandlian said PCSD No. 1 intends to focus on vocational and technical education opportunities in their contribution to the RIDE Initiative. The school already offers a CDL training program through EWC and has a high-level carpentry program, and Sandlian hopes to expand the vocational training to include automotive, HVAC, electrical, CNA, and other career and vocational training opportunities for the students, as they show interest. “The goal is to create pathways to a career,” Sandlian concluded.

“There is such a shortage of workers. I think that's awesome we are a part of this,” clerk Diane Haroldson said.

After an executive session to discuss personnel, the board approved a four-day calendar for Glendo Schools for the 2024-25 school year (see corresponding article in this week's paper); approved hiring, resignations and terminations, approved policy IGDG-E as the district's fundraising request form on its second and final reading; approved policy IHBG modifying the homeschooling policy to strike the sentence stating “Any instructional program provided to more than one family unit does not constitute a home-based educational program” on its second and final reading; approved the adoption of policy DB, which combines five separate budget policies into one single policy; approved several policies as reviewed, amended, revised or repealed by the policy committee (some of which are outdated and do not apply any longer); approved an IBB living document that would establish a starting point each year for teacher-administration negotiations; approved indoor track for the 2024-25 school year; approved amended cyber insurance coverage costs; approved the revised Old Chugwater School purchase contract with the correct lot information and authorized the superintendent to execute a warranty deed for its sale; approved a special education contract with St. Joseph's Children Home; approved Mind Games Counseling Contracts for Libbey and Peak High School; approved the school food distributor bid by Cash-Wa; approved used skid steer bid from Bobcat of the Rockies for $42,500.00; approved special education contracts with Elizabeth Masie as a literacy consultant, and C-V Ranch-BOCES 5; approved the purchase of three multipurpose passenger vehicles for the transportation department; and approved a change order for Libbey Elementary's multipurpose gym.

The change order for the HVAC upgrade for Libbey will cost $290,000. Maintenance director Jim Tolle said the cost is high and repairs could be made next year, but it will cost more if it is put off. “I could keep putting a band aid on the problem, but it will eventually fail and still have to be replaced,” Tolle said. He said he was prioritizing the multi-purpose room because currently there is no control of temperature in that room, and it is a room students spend a lot of time in. “If we don't fix the whole system, you will be fighting it,” he said.

Authorization was given to open bids for a dust collector, and to restore the football field. Tolle explained the field had not been edged properly, and grass roots are “creeping under to lift the new track, which if not corrected, could ruin it. The field also has rolls – it has not been loved on in a while - it's in pretty bad shape. If we don't fix it, you could lose that $200,000 track.”

Tolle explained the need to fix the sprinklers, holes, divits and rolls. In some areas the sod would be cut, cleaned underneath, then laid back down. He said the restoration would be done in phases and might take a couple years.

There is a special board meeting scheduled for May 1st at 6 p.m. And a work session on May 13 to review math and science curriculums, and to review the school PLP accredited comprehensive digital pre-K – 12 teacher and learning platform. The next regular meeting will be at 6 p.m. on May 20 at the district's board room.