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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Without a member from the South Triad, the LCSD1 board will never truly represent south Cheyenne


         Back in August of 2014, I attended a meeting of the Laramie County No. 1 Board of Trustees and spoke about an issue regarding child enrollment. At the end of that meeting, two principals approached me and asked me to consider running for a board seat as there was no representation for the South Triad and they felt they don’t have a voice.
         Fast forward to 2020, and I’m still getting asked to run for the school board as we still don’t have someone from the South Triad on the board.
         The following expert opinion is from an LCSD1 employee who wishes to not be named:
“Trying to be
South High is the high school in the South Triad
professional while writing this is really hard considering all the shady things that happened during the school board meeting on April 6. This was simply supposed to be a meeting for approval of a 45-day public comment period, time for the public to speak. (Note: the discussion was about whether to go to individual triad representation on the board with at-large members.)
         “The majority of the school board trustees not being willing to open this up for public comment defies what they represent as ‘trustees.’ (Trustee) Nate Breen, along with others, is correct in saying that they will ultimately get the final decision as trustees (voted in by the people to represent the people is democratic). However, the discrimination and unexpected suppression that was displayed during the short 43-minute debate was disappointing, but not surprising!
         “It is obvious there was a hidden agenda for the amended suggestion to be restored to status quo, in addition to the animosity and division already present within the school board trustees. As I play many roles within the south Cheyenne community, we were silenced — yet again.
         “It was expressed over and over, specifically by Trustee Lynn Story-Huyler, that there has not been a discussion on the proposal. But it was also brought up that it has been a hot topic for over a year. I suppose I can assume this particular topic has not been a priority of the school board trustees.
         “I also question the significance of the 45-day review serving two purposes: setting the allowable time for trustees to discuss; and to hear the voices of the public as desired by a trustee that had not been at the subcommittee meetings.
         “The unwelcoming tone of the conversation showed the true colors of the unwillingness to have diversity on the school board. The conversation lacked acknowledgement of the marginalized south Cheyenne emails that have flooded trustees’ inboxes, not to mention the educator survey that supported the change and the presence and time of passionate community members bravely standing in front of the subcommittee.
         “There were so many distractions in the conversation. One, that Trustee Marguerite Herman tried redirecting, was the questioning of how this would all ‘affect the election system’ and if discussion with county clerk was had been had. (Come on! It was explained several times that the board had two years until this was implemented to get things changed.) Another distraction was COVID-19 (simply an excuse).
         “Two specific board members spoke in regards to the south side, Mr. Breen and Ms. Story-Huylar.  Mr. Breen tried to sympathize by comparing the south situation to his living on the west side of town, but he displayed discrimination too.
         “He humbly admitted to that ‘attitude,’ given that while living on the west side is a sugar-coated example that does not compare to the judgment, racial name-calling and assumptions placed on south Cheyenne families who live in poverty and attend school there.
         “Ms. Story-Huylar sympathized with children and staff at Arp Elementary School, stating, ‘My heart is with the south side of town.’ But she failed to provide any compassionate example besides feeling sorry for ‘them.’
         “Thank you, Trustee Tim Bolin, for advocating for what would have helped our district began steps to diversify and truly represent our school community. I really hope that the words of the trustees who admitted there needs to be a change in how we listen to community members, are followed through (because this would have been a good first step.)
         “I heard the need of urgency. I apologize on behalf of your fellow trustees because they should be ashamed of themselves for blindsiding you and our community by making the final vote on April 6.”
         Out of the blue, I’m being asked to give an interview with the local newspaper about the April 6 vote and then asked to give an interview with KGWN regarding the same subject.  I agreed to both and was given a few sentences in both published articles.
         What wasn’t printed was: Why would a current trustee give up their seat just so someone on the South Triad could get voted in? They worked hard for that seat, even though it is not a paid position; they want that status.
         The South Triad just doesn’t feel like it has someone who they can go to and express their concerns, complaints or praises. It’s not that we don’t feel the current board is approachable; it’s we don’t feel they can relate to our situations.
         During the April 20 meeting, a petition was submitted to the Board of Trustees asking it to reconsider the April 6 vote and give the people of Laramie County 45 days to discuss this issue.
         We had 13 people speak up at a Zoom meeting and give their reasons for why the South Triad deserves a voice on the board. Many people spoke about some racial issues, eco-social issues and how the current board would never be able to relate to someone who lives in south Cheyenne.
         Now to be perfectly clear, we are asking the board to amend the 2020 elections for the LCSD1 Board of Trustees to include one representative each from all three triads — Central, East and South —with voting only being counted in the triad boundaries (like the Cheyenne City council wards) and the 2022 election would have four seats at large.
         I find it interesting that Mr. Breen is on the State Board of Education, made up of 14 members, 11 of  being appointed by the governor and each member “representing” either one of seven districts in the state or a particular segment of the school system. For example, Mr. Breen represents local school boards. I guess it’s OK to have a “representative” when it’s appointed but not when it’s elected.
         Well the board heard, voted and turned us down; one member calling it a “token” seat. But Mr. Breen turned around and said he was shocked to hear about the racial issues and voted to investigate those claims.
         I’m sorry, but if you were really tuned to the South Triad you would have known about these issues as they have been happening for years. This is how out of touch our board is with the South Triad.
         Sure during election years they may go to the schools and read to the students during Dr. Seuss day or go have lunch with some of the kids. I’ll let the Wyoming Tribune Eagle say what I want to say in its April 19 editorial:
         “He (Breen) knows the current board is made up of mostly well-to-do people with deep connections in the community. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Nothing, on the surface. But when none of them live on the south side of town (four of the seven live in the East triad; the other three live in the Central triad), how do they know what needs the parents and students in that area really have? And even if the parents, teachers and principals felt comfortable enough to bring those issues to board meetings, how do they know they will be heard?”
         Here is one example of how underserved the South Triad is: The school district sent out a survey to all the 2020 graduating class and parents. Here is how many voted: East had 518, Central had 453, South had 231 and Triumph (also in south Cheyenne) had 28. That is 19 percent of the votes.
         With the 2020 elections coming up, three seats are open, and the only hopes of having someone from the South Triad win will be if someone who is well known in the whole community, not just the South Triad, will step up and put up a good fight.
         As we all know with the elections in Wyoming, it’s all about name recognition.

         Gabriel Piña is the owner of Piña Business Services in Cheyenne. He unsuccessfully ran for the Laramie County District 1 Board of Trustees in 2014 and is considering whether to run again for a seat this fall.

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