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Beating the drum

Oct 25, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

Recent events again point out the shame of not having a school auditorium

Perhaps what Fremont County School District 25 in Riverton needs in order to get a decent performing arts space of its own is a new state law -- or adherence to the current one.

We published a story Wednesday about the state approving more than $400,000 for the purchase of land for a new elementary school, followed Thursday by a front-page picture of the Riverton High School fall vocal music concert that was presented in the middle school lunchroom.

The state passed a law a few years back saying that Wyoming elementary school classrooms couldn't have more than 16 students per teacher. At first it was the classic "unfunded mandate" that makes so many people frustrated with government. Recently, though, it has become a funded mandate. The state says District 25 has to have more classroom space. We've done just about everything we can to squeeze more kids into the schools we have (an oddity: we reduce crowding by creating crowding), and it still isn't enough.

So the state came through with money. District 25 is buying the land, and next year it is understood that more money -- millions more -- will be coming our way to build the "Riverview School" that has been talked about in the city for at least 30 years.

Supposedly, state law also addresses the problem of performance space for school districts. The law is pretty straightforward, actually. It says that the arts are part of the desired educational model, and that there must be adequate space for arts education. Several new high schools have been built in Wyoming in the past decade, and every one of them has a school auditorium with it. They have to. It's the law ... isn't it?

Yet District 25, a Class 4-A district with four times the number of students in, say, Thermopolis -- which has a nice new state-built theater in its new high school -- still doesn't have one.

So we had our vocal concert in the middle school lunchroom.

It's nothing more than wishful thinking to imagine that next year, when the state coughs up something like $6 million for the new elementary school, that it might tack on an extra million for a school auditorium -- either at the new school or somewhere else.

District 25 is by far the largest school district in Wyoming without a place of its own for school concerts and school plays, not counting a gymnasium, of course, or a lunchroom. This remains a crucial shortcoming for our students and our community. Further, some say it leaves the district open to a lawsuit when the wrong (or right) parent has had enough of concerts in lunchrooms, or when the school district has had enough of seeing schools one-third our size with arts education and performance spaces that the law, supposedly, not only says we are entitled to, but must have.

In the early years of the new century, a Riverton High School auditorium project had almost reached the top of the list of school construction projects. Since then, that list has been reordered, and an auditorium for our public school children has disappeared from view.

That is a shame, bordering on a disgrace. We've beaten this drum for years, and we will keep pounding.

Legislators, school board members and candidates, district administrators, teachers, students, parents, community citizens, and even the City of Riverton ought to do the same until this deficiency in our public school system is corrected.

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MAIL SUBSCRIBERS: Thursday's edition of The Ranger was delivered to the Riverton post office at 3 p.m., in time to meet the postal deadline for next-day mail delivery.

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