Tearful public comment at school board meeting

(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)

BUDGET CUTS: Teacher Sheena Rancourt addresses board, Joe Wulczynski asks about drama program…

After learning that she would not have her teaching contract renewed for next year, Sheena Rancourt addressed the Chewelah School Board on May 15, not to ask for her job but rather to suggest what the school board could do moving forward. This was followed by another tearful statement from community member Joe Wulcyznski asking about the future of the Chewelah drama program.

Recent budget cuts by the district and measures approved by the school board cut the drama program to an after-school program and Rancourt, who taught theatre and social studies classes in the junior high school position, had her job cut for next year.

Rancourt had moved back to Chewelah after teaching in Nebraska for seven years and had the least seniority in the school district. Being a single mother of two, Rancourt said she felt she couldn’t wait for the budget crisis to be resolved and looked elsewhere for employment. So even if the budget numbers even out, Rancourt said she will not be in Chewelah next year.

“What you lose in cuts is not just a teacher, you lose a community member,” Rancourt said, listing the numerous groups she was a part of. “I wanted to be here because I am a 2002 graduate of Jenkins High School.”

Born and raised here, Rancourt said she overcame her “at-risk” youth status thanks to teachers in the school district.

“I realized that I had more opportunities than what my own wonderful mother could provide,” Rancourt said. “I always knew I wanted to come back to my community to do the same thing for other kids that had been done for me, and I did.”

Rancourt asked the school board for some improvements moving forward including solving a lack of communication from the school board, respecting people who have moved a long way to work in Chewelah and how cuts could affect them, promoting more what teachers in the district do right and market the district better and improve the para educator system in the district.

“How can we expect our building staff to do even more when they are already stretched too thin?” Rancourt asked.

She added she feels the current school climate is not a good one, and that this needs to be worked on.

“We are in control of our image and we are not doing our job,” Rancourt said, adding that cutting teachers does not help students or the community.

“I wish the very best for this community and I hope to be able to come back at another time,” she finished.

Deanna Norvell of the school board said that cutbacks were not taken lightly and that the board grieved over the losses as well. Board member Lori Larsen agreed that transperency needs to increase for the school board, citing the Centralia School Board which records all staff-district contract negotiations in the final two months for public consumption.
Rancourt was followed by community member Joseph Wulczynski, who cited his involvement in the performing art scene in Chewelah and asked what the district’s plan is for the theatre program moving forward. Wulcyznski cited that the community supports theatre as evident with the new Performing Arts Center.

“I understand there will be an evening program, but what is the district’s plan and board’s plan to bring back our program into the school?” he asked, while also shedding tears over the loss of theatre classes at the school.

The school board and Superintendent Rich McFarland said that bringing back the theatre program into daytime curriculium will definitely be in the conversation moving forward.
Loretta Burkey also pointed out how tough the cuts were and that the reason is the school district has to remain solvent.

Also in the meeting, McFarland recognized Sawyer Bardwell as an outstanding staff member of the district who won NE 2B North League Coach of the Year. The board also accepted the resignations of Leanne and Rocky Verbeck as well as grade school teacher Dianne Kennedy.

Student school board rep Lily Kirry mentioned that 8th grade graduation will be on June 11 at 6 p.m. at JJSHS, among other local events going on. She said that Avery Arnold was named the NE 2B North League golfer of the year and said that state testing is going on.

McFarland in his report to the board said that if the school wants to renew their enrichment levy and facilities levy that the details must be worked out by November of this year in order to get the proposals ready for the possible February special election or the November 2020 election. McFarland also said in his report that the school district did well in the state audit with only two minor issues concerning one student’s count after withdrawing, and some security requirements of the district’s assessment systems.

“Those were very smal findings, that is good news,” school board member Judy Bean said.

Sheryl Templeton delivered a report on Title funding and programs, while Ryan Forsberg and Jenny Youngblood each delivered presentations about the new science curriculum for the middle school science classes and the high school science classes. The school board approved of each choice.

The school board also approved a procedural change in travel expenses that allows for per diem now to help streamline the prior process of reimbursements. The school board also discussed the policy of gifts and donations from the community, saying that if one program was getting considerably more gifts and money from donations, it could be seen as unfair to other programs. The number of donations and money would have to be very prominent to be considered unfair; the board talked about.

The school board also approved an overnight trip request for Special Olumpics, approved the Gess Elementary Summer School Program and the Alternative program summer school program.

The board also had a first reading of streamlined graduation requirements, approved food service fees for 2019-20, along with first reading of student responsibilities and rights with student discipline – which appears to be streamlined from prior years.

The school board also tabled their policy for non residential students for a sixth reading.