CHEYENNE – Advocates who want to see changes to the way school board members are elected refuse to let the issue quietly die.
At the Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees meeting Monday, several people used the public comment period to ask the board to put the policy out for public review and a final vote. The proposal would convert three of the board’s seven at-large seats into residence-area districts, meaning candidates would only have to campaign in one of the city’s triads.
“I’m frustrated that we have to fight so hard to prove that we deserve a seat at the table and a voice,” said Antonio Serrano, a parent of children who attend schools in the South triad.
Serrano and other advocates argue students in that part of town – which is historically lower-income and less-white than other areas – face obstacles the board members, none of whom live in the area, are overlooking. Some of those concerns advocates have raised in the past include teacher diversity, raising money for school supplies, and bullying.
“I’m frustrated because board members think they understand me and my children and our issues. You don’t,” Serrano said. “You really don’t know what it’s like to walk in our shoes. I’m not asking you to try. A lot of us have lost faith. I’m asking you to show us that you see a problem.”
Serrano reminded the board that more than 500 people have signed an online petition calling for “school board representation for all triads,” as he joined several other people in calling on the board to bring back the proposal.
At Monday’s meeting, Marguerite Herman, chairwoman of the board, read the board’s official acknowledgement of the petition:
“The board has acted on the issue in the last year. If the board finds a compelling reason to address the issue in the future they may bring the issue back up for discussion, community comment, and or a possible vote.”
Wyoming state Rep. Sara Burlingame, D-Cheyenne, represents a large portion of the south side of Cheyenne and told the board Monday she’s heard from many constituents who “feel very strongly about the south side of Cheyenne having representation on the school board. I would encourage the board to open it back up for 45-day review so many we can go a little bit deeper on it.”
The proposal, which Trustee Tim Bolin has sponsored, has been introduced two years in a row, and the board has rejected it both times. Last month, the majority of board members voted to remove the proposal from the 45-day public review period, which is the last step before board members vote on the measure. That spurred backlash from supporters, and the board agreed to hold a community meeting last week to discuss equity across schools.
However, some supporters of the residence-area proposal called the meeting – which focused heavily on school funding formulas – “fluff” and criticized the board’s lack of focus on equitable outcomes and decision to not directly address the residence-areas proposal.
“Having listened to that conversation, it begs the question: At what point and what is the process of bringing this issue of triad representations before the board. Do we have a timeline?” Trustee Rich Wiederspahn asked LCSD1 Superintendent Boyd Brown, who also attended last week’s community meeting.
“At this point that would be something the board would need to say they’re interested in bringing that back up,” Brown said. “I don’t have a timeline on it.”
Several of the board members have voiced a need for additional information on how the proposal – if it goes into effect – would impact students in the district.
“I believe board members should have that before they make a decision. But at some point we need to decide whether or not it will be open for a public meeting” Wiederspahn said.
“I think we’re seeing a lot of angst from people in the community who are afraid we’re going to sit on this until it disappears. I don’t believe that’s going to happen, because I think the board is going to deal with it. But I would encourage us to get it resolved one way or another.”
Trustee Lynn Storey-Huylar said that although she “take(s) this very seriously,” she has also “been elected to make decisions on research, public opinion and good processes.” She noted she sees two issues that need to be addressed: inequities and the mechanics of what addressing those gaps look like.
“I think we’ve only checked off one piece of the box – we talked about inequities (at last week’s meeting),” Storey-Huylar said. “I would like to have another public meeting on the actual having a voting member (sic.)... I’m certainly very happy to bring it back up for a vote and have the board vote. But I like to have information.”
Storey-Huylar said she wants to see that second meeting happen within one to two weeks.