School cuts to impact food service, schedules, bus routes

by nathan oster

A plan to trim $158,000 in spending from the next fiscal year’s budget was the topic of a town hall style public meeting hosted Monday night by the Big Horn County School District No. 3 board of trustees.

The plan cuts deeply in several areas, but staff was mostly spared, with the only cuts being two part-timers who work in food service.

Each of the main school buildings and the central office would feel a cut of $5,000 (for a total of $20,000).

An $8,000 earmark for national travel would be eliminated.

A $10,000 savings would be realized through cuts to the stipends paid to activity sponsors.

The food service ($25,000), technology ($25,000) and maintenance/custodial ($20,000) budgets would be cut and another $25,000 would come from carryover reserves.

The purpose of Monday’s meeting was to obtain public input on the proposed cuts.

Most of the discussion centered on three areas: transportation, food service and activity stipends.

Some of the savings to transportation will occur as part of a larger plan to lengthen the school day in all three buildings. The incorporation of the time now referred to as Buff Time into the regular school day will result in the elimination of the current Buff Time routes. A longtime bus driver, Jerry Clifton, is also retiring this year and his position won’t be filled.

Bob Graham, a bus driver, questioned the wisdom of eliminating Buff Time, citing positive comments about the after-school program that were made by building principals at recent school board meetings.

Supt. Barry Bryant said kids who need the extra help would get it as part of the regular school day. For those who don’t, enrichment opportunities would be available.

GMS Principal Scott McBride said school officials have looked at the pros and cons of extending the school day and that he, personally, is excited about all the elective classes that the middle school is going to be able to offer.

Principal Ty Flock said he sees the change benefitting the high school as well, as it will allow classes and clubs to meet during the course of the school day. He added that he believes a students would appreciate study hall time.

GES Principal Brett Suiter said advocacy has been the big push and will continue to be in his building.

From a transportation standpoint, Howard Gernant said buses are always on the go during the day. Among other things, drivers shuttle kids to and from Riverside High School and special education kids to the Buff Ranch and other locations. That’s in addition to their morning and afternoon routes.

Then there are the activities.

Heading into May, Greybull school buses had put on 191,194 miles, an increase compared to last year, according to Gernant. Of those miles, 47,194 — or approximately 25 percent — were for activities.

According to discussion Monday night, the Wyoming High School Activities Association is aware of the issue and is “adamant about making changes,” particularly in the areas of travel, distance and the need for overnight trips.

While providing the numbers, Gernant later emphasized that he didn’t want to be perceived as being anti-activities. The opposite is true, he said, saying that if weren’t for FFA and football, he might not have stayed in school, and he fears today’s students would react the same way, should activities be cut.

 

Kitchen

Bryant said he’s been studying ways to bring the school lunch program’s expenditures more in line with revenues since he took over as superintendent. Included in that conversation from day one has been a plan to consolidate the district’s two kitchens.

To this point, it hasn’t worked.

As of Monday, the district was $130,000 in the hole in food service.

By the end of the year, he fears it’ll be around $135,000.

A consultant from the state is coming in later this week to assist with the consolidation.

“We don’t have much choice,” said Bryant.

One change in policy has already been implemented. Teachers and other adults who eat lunch with the kids are now paying $4 per meal. Before they ate for free, in exchange for supervising students in the lunchroom.

Bryant said the goal is for food service to be “self sufficient.”

Darcy Garrison, a parent, questioned the wisdom of the plan to consolidate kitchens, noting that more equipment will have to be bought to pull it off and that food quality — already a concern — will suffer even more if reaches students “cold, rubbery and soggy.”

Bryant said the district has almost all of the equipment it is going to need in the two kitchens, except for an insulated transport carrier. The district would need to buy three of them, at an estimated cost of $180 apiece.

Bryant added that the plan must change because the district is losing money. Right now it serves an average of 352 meals a day, with the majority being at the elementary school. When what’s paid in labor and benefits is considered, each meal costs the district $2.80. Bryant said he thinks going to one kitchen will cut down on waste and make it easier to order and plan meals.

Regarding transport, he said several districts already do it, including Lovell, and that the plan as it stands now is to cook the meals at the elementary school and transport them in a Yukon. Bryant said he anticipates it taking 15 minutes a day to transport the food from one kitchen to the other.

Trustee Mike Wirtzberger did some independent research, telling the board he toured the facilities in Lovell. While things are on a larger scale there because there are more students, he found the visit helpful. Lovell serves about 650 meals a day, including breakfasts and lunches, and of that total, 300 are transported.

Bryant said 175 would need to be transported each day in Greybull.

Wirtzberger said he had concerns about storage. Plentiful in Lovell, it’s lacking at the elementary school, he said. The high school cafeteria is a lot bigger and has better prep and storage areas.

Garrison maintained that whatever savings are realized will come at the expense of kids.

“There has to be a better way,” she said.

Mike Blissett, a teacher at GHS, said kids “don’t eat school lunches because they don’t like them” and that if the district changed the food and made it delicious, more kids and adults would want to eat it.

Chairman Jamie Flitner said she agrees, but noted that the district’s hands are tied because it needs to meet federal guidelines to receive $110,000 in federal funding. The district receives that amount because 54 percent of its students get free and reduced lunches.

 

Stipends

GMS teacher Casey Bowe was the only activity sponsor who spoke regarding the proposed cuts to the stipends. His area of expertise is science, which means he’s responsible for both the Science Olympiad and science fair. In both, Greybull Middle School students have excelled.

Bowe said his was one of the stipends that would be cut under the plan. He emphasized that he’s grateful for what he’s been paid to date — and that no matter what the district chooses to pay him moving forward, he’s going to continue to be the sponsor because students benefit from them and he believes they are important.

He did want to clarify why his stipend was greater than those in surrounding districts, citing the fact that he organizes the Northwest Regional Science Fair because no one else will do it. In addition, he takes kids to State Science Olympiad; in other districts, parents do it. Bryant was directed to visit with other superintendents to encourage their districts to take their turn hosting the regional science fair.

The superintendent summed up the conversation. “If I had a choice, I’d like to cut nothing,” he said. “We’re at a loss. There’s no good area to cut … in the end, someone’s not going to be happy, whatever you do. Employees in a lot of districts this year won’t get anything as far as raises.” While Greybull’s will, Bryant said it’ll be needed by those on the insurance plan to help offset a 6 percent increase in premiums. For them, it’ll result in a pay cut.