The nine non-partisan Trustees serve four-year staggered terms, they receive no salary or benefits; meetings are monthly. There are three different races for Trustee (Area A, Area B, and At-large). Candidates must live in the area they will represent. However, voters select from candidates in all races. Six serve from Area A, one serves from Area B, two are elected At-Large. Voters will select three candidates from the seven running from Area A, and one from the two running At-Large. Candidate responses for Area A are listed first, then the At-Large candidates. Those elected will join these trustees whose terms do not expire: Ruth A. Castor, Dona Coffey, Jason M. Tangeman (Area A), Ken Cramer (Area B), and Janice Marshall (At-Large).
What motivates you to run and makes you especially suited for this public office?
Mark Bittner (Area A): I’m a strong believer in the idea that as a member of a community it is up to all of us to step up and be part of positive solutions. Having grown up in Laramie and having had 3 children attend schools here, I feel a commitment to this school system. I have served on local, state, and national boards including Laramie Montessori, Laramie Head Start, Wyoming Early Childhood Association, Laramie Blizzard as well as serving as Advocacy Chair for the National Coalition for Campus Children’s Centers and feel that I have a good idea of how effective boards operate.
Dan Bleak (Area A): Being a former high school math teacher and coach (7 years at LHS), I’m passionate about education. I’ve been involved with the district professionally. Now, my wife (Nicole) and I have four kids in the district so we’re invested in the success of the district. I feel like I have some things I could offer on the board, between educational background and now a business background. I think it gives me the ability to look at issues from different perspectives. I would like to help ACSD #1 in providing the best education to students in the state.
Rihanna W. Kelver (Area A): My primary motivation to run has been, and will always be, for the students of our district. I want to make sure that the students always have a voice on the board and I intend to be that voice. I think especially suits me for the job. Out of all the age ranges of the other candidates, I am the one who is the closest of being out of the education system. I have a deeper relation and understand of the students lives in the district right now. With that I intend to make sure to always uphold the students voices…
Michele Mitchum (Area A): My passion for education, professional experience, and desire to give back to the community motivated me to run for the School Board. My professional accomplishments include co-authoring a report on teacher compensation and staffing patterns for the Wyoming State Legislature, and working as an analyst and public relations specialist on a wide range of education issues for the state of Wyoming. Now that I have two children of my own in our school district, I’m looking for an opportunity to give back to the community and put my skill set to work serving on the School Board.
Robert Mobley (Area A): One reason I am running for the position concerns prior school board experience. I served in Nevada and despite differences between the two states concerning education my ultimate goal is improving student achievement in a safe and respectful learning environment. My family relocated to Wyoming because the state values education. Previous experience provided opportunities to see and participate in the unique Trustee setting. Districts are bound by a different set of laws, rules, and regulations. I bring a background of knowledge from diverse experiences that help shape the questions I’ll ask to issues that are brought before the Board.
Lawrence Perea (Area A): I am proud to say that I am the product of the Wyoming public school system. My public school years in Cheyenne were formative for me. I was challenged, encouraged, and supported. This experience had a positive impact on my life, and laid a foundation for me to be successful in college and beyond. It has been a great honor and privilege to serve as a trustee for the past 8 years, and I can only hope that my decisions and actions have had the same impact on even one student as did the board members who oversaw my education.
Tamsin “Tammy” Schroeder (Area A): For many years I have been involved in education in Wyoming as a teacher, parent, and Dept. of Education employee. I have two children in the high school and care deeply about the education they are receiving. I understand the state standards, development and delivery of curriculum, the use of assessment data, and the state funding model. My knowledge in these areas can help the board make informed decisions that impact our children every day.
Karen R. Bienz (At-Large): I have been involved in my children’s educational journeys and have supported their teachers and schools through serving on the PTA at Indian Paintbrush (2002-2007) and becoming an elected Board Member at Snowy Range Academy (2012-2016). I’m a highly qualified candidate for School Board due to my skills and work experience in nonprofit management, my layman’s knowledge about educational policy and also my abilities to listen and to analyze. My passion for educational issues and advocacy for my own children has grown into a desire to assure that high standards are met in serving all children in our district’s schools.
John Mickelson (At-Large): I am a father of six children, 2 whom have graduated and the remaining four are in Elementary, Jr. High, and High School. I, myself, was a graduate of LHS. My parents, 4 of my siblings, and extended family are all educators. Being from a family of educators, I was raised understanding the value of education and how it sets the foundation for life. I believe that the education system is ever evolving and as parents and community members, we have a responsibility to be actively involved in ensuring that the right decisions are made for our continued educational success.
With planned local school replacement ranking very low for competitive state school facilities funding, how would you approach long range planning so that it provides necessary facilities yet conserves current resources to benefit students?
Mark Bittner (Area A): State budgetary issues have certainly made this process a bit more difficult. Capacity issues at the Jr. High have probably temporarily been addressed with ninth graders moving up to the new High School but that may not be a long term fix. Building issues at Slade offer a challenge as it has also recently moved down the state facilities list. I think it is important to make sure that these schools are kept safe and functioning but I think it is also important to remain fiscally conservative during these times.
Dan Bleak (Area A): You need to gather input from all the stakeholders. I would want to see recommendations from Superintendent Yennie and his staff. The board should consider all the needs within the community and determine the best way to maximize those resources while working within the constraints of the budget. My first priority in planning though would be focused upon how do we attract, retain and support the highest quality teachers possible. The success kids are going to experience in their education is primarily going to arise from their interactions with teachers. Facilities can help with that, but they can’t replace it.
Rihanna W. Kelver (Area A): First and foremost we have to make sure that any and all funding allocation, going forward, is for the benefit of the student's education in our districts. With that, we will need to constantly analyze, especially when it comes for school facilities funding, if what we're doing ultimately benefits the students and the district. We need to make sure that students are getting their education in the highest standards we can give.
Michele Mitchum (Area A): We must continue to be fiscally responsible in our approach to school facilities funding. The current board members have taken a thoughtful and long-term approach to funding and I think it has served us well to this point. Moving forward, I think it is important that we weigh facilities updates against other budget demands and make sure that we are prioritizing spending and asking ourselves and the community what will ultimately best serve the students and teachers who are in those facilities every day.
Robert Mobley (Area A): Maintaining existing facilities through creative expenditures within the capitol improvements budget must be used. Locally elected state representatives must look into amending current legislation to address schools that are both out-dated and in need of repair/replacement due to structural defect. Slade Elementary is a good school. It’s old, but that does not hamper our talented educators from making it an exceeding expectation school in the state’s eyes. They are making due building-wise, but upgrades associated with technological advances drive the need for a new facility. LJHS is a different situation demanding attention due to structural issues that must be addressed.
Lawrence Perea (Area A): Since 2011, the average daily membership (ADM) in ACSD#1 has fluctuated between 3,604 students to 3,887 students. Currently ACSD#1 anticipates the ADM to increase over the next several years. ACSD#1 is hopeful the conditions and capacities of several of the older school buildings will move them to the top of the School Facilities Department’s (SFD) educational building needs list. The condition and capacity of Slade school has moved it up the list and a new school is currently at the 35% of the design process. ACSD#1 does not anticipate the building of new schools to divert resources away from students.
Tamsin “Tammy” Schroeder (Area A): Understanding the funding model and applying our state resources to care for our current buildings and maintain student programs is the job of the administrative staff. If our current approach is not working, a review of the allocation of state block grant funds must be done. It is the choice of the administration, with board guidance how to allocate those funds. A transparent decision making process should be in place so the community knows and understands how money is distributed across the district, and as a board member, I should be accountable for the budget decisions.
Karen R. Bienz (At-Large): Wyoming communities are fortunate to have received State funding for school district operations and facilities to date. The nature of Wyoming's economy is changing and our State legislators have many obstacles ahead. The needs and sizes of school districts are also reshaping themselves. ACSD1 should carefully study our community’s needs and analyze population trends to plan ahead. We must be careful not to overbuild or close facilities that may be needed in the future. I support the current plans of the district administration to review all areas of staffing and the food services program to maximize efficient use of resources.
John Mickelson (At-Large): I think that we need to be stewards of the school district and its property. To me that means that we are not trying to limit use, but we are to care for it like it is our own. That entails fixing what needs to be fixed. There are always speed bumps that we will deal with such as finances, but at that time it is our job to prioritize the projects. Turning to the community if needed. I am not afraid to roll up my sleeves and get dirty to help get things done alongside my fellow community members.
What would you do with surplus district land and property including land where the former LHS was located?
Mark Bittner (Area A): This is where I feel it is important to include public input from community members. Ideally it would be good to repurpose facilities when possible to serve as places that can have multiple uses for the community. I really don’t like seeing buildings sitting empty and not being used, so if it is not a financial drain or safety concern to reuse a building then it should be used in any way possible. It might also be a good idea to investigate shared ownership of spaces such as the agreement between the city and ACSD with the old Deti field.
Dan Bleak (Area A): Again, I think you need to gather input from a variety of sources. Recreationally, the old high school allows for some needed community facilities (such as the gymnasiums and auditorium). However, if it isn’t feasible safety-wise or cost-wise to maintain them, then we need to look at alternatives. I would want to see what recommendations are made by the school district as well as gather feedback from community groups and other stakeholders. We need to take a long-term view to maximize benefit rather than proposals that may seem more appealing just in the short-term.
Rihanna W. Kelver (Area A): With surplus district land we need to make sure that it is being used in a manner that is cost effective to the district, and benefits the districts goals for students. If we can use any land for additional educational purposes for the students in a way that is cost effective and beneficial, then we definitely should. In this time where our budget only grows tighter everyday, we have to make sure that any resources we currently have are benefiting the students and are being cost effective for the district.
Michele Mitchum (Area A): Surplus district property and land should be sold in accordance with district policy. When assets are no longer being utilized by the district we should seek to recoup our costs by selling them. Folks in our community have already commented that the old Laramie High School looks “abandoned,” and we should move swiftly to transfer unused assets as we can. Especially in these tough economic times, members of the School Board should be working to make sure we are leveraging any unused property and assets as we are able to do so.
Robert Mobley (Area A): Concerning ‘surplus’ district property, it needs to remain as is. As a community we must look to the future. If Dr. Nichols of UW wants to increase the university’s enrollment, there will be a need for more/expanded district facilities. 4,000 new university students will require services, housing, and goods that will only drive the Laramie economy. Service voids will be filled by the influx of new families that might over-burden the district’s resources. An eye towards the future is needed to account for possible changes. Regarding the old LHS location, this is the proposed site for the new Slade.
Lawrence Perea (Area A): Currently the old Laramie High School site is scheduled to house the new Slade elementary school. The new Slade school is currently at 35% of design process, and the school district will continue with the design process and building of the new Slade school unless the School Facilities Department (SFD) stops this process due to lack of revenue in the state coffers. Furthermore, the school district has started the discussion(s) about building one or two new junior high schools with one of the buildings occupying the land adjacent to the new Laramie High School.
Tamsin “Tammy” Schroeder (Area A): If there are land parcels that the district owns that are not suitable for school sites, those should be sold or used for community positive projects such as parks or fitness fields. If the Old LHS is suitable for an elementary school, then its remodeling for a new Slade elementary should move forward. Communicating and soliciting feedback from the community is a high priority for me, particularly in school planning and construction. As we move forward with new school construction plans, the community should be fully informed, and I believe that communication is the board’s responsibility.
Karen R. Bienz (At-Large): It would be premature to liquidate any of these holdings at this point. While previous studies may have predicted a trajectory of population growth for K-12, I would caution the School District to resurvey again in a year or two to better understand trends considering the after-effects of the Wyoming fossil fuel and mining industry collapse. I would not consider any of the current holdings to be “surplus” until we have a clearer long range plan (10-20 years out) for our school facility needs. It is my understanding that a new elementary school is planned on the old LHS site.
John Mickelson (At-Large): This is a challenging topic, there are so many factors to consider. The old Laramie high school is a topic that needs to be addressed. There are empty lots that can remain that way until it is affordable to do something with. The high school if left unattended will corrode and become unusable. I also feel that constituents need to have a voice in what happens to or with the management of those assets. It is vital that school boards listen to all stakeholders, as they are key to the future of our schools.