Central Services Facility

Committee: Give elementary counselors, Star Lane staff one-year funding

Counselors will keep working in elementary schools and Star Lane Center will retain its level of teaching staff under changes approved Friday to the preliminary 2011-12 Natrona County School District budget.

The NCSD Budget Development Committee approved a conceptual budget plan in early April. That plan set the groundwork for the major programs and special budget requests that would be funded in the 2011-12 budget. This week, though, the committee met twice to reconsider some special district needs.

Elementary counselors
One need was elementary counselors. The state’s funding model doesn’t provide revenue for counselors in elementary schools, but NCSD has found other ways to pay for the positions. In 2011-12, however, the district faces the end of a federal grant that funded most positions, as well as an estimated 10 percent cut to federal Title I funding, which pays for a couple of other counselors.

On Monday, the budget committee voted to pay for a one-year extension of the 3.7 counselor positions that had been funded through the Safe Schools Healthy Students grant. On Friday, the committee followed up that move by OK’ing a proposal that would extend the district’s contract with the Central Wyoming Counseling Center to provide school counselors. Typically, CWCC staff members provide the clinical counseling services needed by students with diagnosed mental health needs, while school counselors provide preventive and small-ground intervention services. The extended contract with CWCC would have those licensed counselors providing more small-group activities at Cottonwood and Evansville elementary schools, where Title I cuts were eliminating some counseling services. The extension actually will also provide part-time services at two other schools, to be determined, that didn’t have counselors before.

It is only a one-year fix, though, paid for by a combination of run-out money from the SSHS grant and board priority funds. Trustees and counselors both said they hope to see a longer term solution in the form of state funding for elementary school counselors, and they will work with local legislators over the next year to explore the addition.

Star Lane Center
Also Friday, the budget development committee voted to provide one-year funding for a teaching position at Star Lane Center.

The center provides a half-day, problem-based program for high school students, in which they earn four credits. Currently, the program has 5.5 teaching positions, but, due to declining enrollment, that was set to decrease to three in 2011-12.

Committee members said they wanted to ensure students still had the opportunity to earn four credits through the program. The program will change so that students will take math classes at their home school, rather than Star Lane next year. However, instead of decreasing offerings for students, Star Lane will instead offer a technology elective credit. That will require a fourth teacher, supporters said.

Committee members also said that the Star Lane approach to education is a valuable model for the district as it moves forward with planning curriculum at the Center for Advanced and Professional Studies and they wanted the staff to have the time to be involved in the planning.

“Without another person, the Star Lane staff will be stretched so thin, I don't believe they will have the time or energy to participate in the discussions around CAPS,” explained Doreen McGlade, president of the Natrona County Education Association and committee member.

The committee voted to use board priority funds for a one-year-only extension of the fourth teaching position.

Finding the money
The budget committee’s decisions were a little easier this week after learning that the district is likely to have a little extra one-time money in the coming year.

The state of Wyoming announced this week that employee insurance costs haven’t risen as fast as expected and the Employee Group Insurance fund, of which the district is a member, has too much money in its reserve.

To make up for the excess, the state won’t collect health, dental or life insurance premiums from individuals or from agencies for the months of July and August. (Employees will see the savings in their June and July paychecks; details will be sent to employees next week.) The premium holiday is expected to generate about $1.5 million in savings, per month, for the district, which will go into the board priority fund.

Though the NCSD Budget Development Committee includes all trustees, the committee’s decisions do not finalize the budget. The 2011-12 district budget will be voted on by the NCSD Board of Trustees in July.

The budget committee also will meet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 8 and from 3 to 5 p.m. June 27 at the Central Services Facility, 970 N. Glenn Rd. Topics will include elementary art, music and PE; data informed district; professional fees; and division budgets.