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Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune  

People pass City Hall in downtown Casper. The City Council had decided to give $3 million of potential 1-cent sales tax revenue to local nonprofits.

Natrona County largely lags behind Wyoming average on math, English, state testing reveals

Natrona County students mostly lagged behind their Wyomingite peers in English and math, state test results show.

The data released Wednesday is the first public glance at WY-TOPP results, the state’s new assessment system for testing Wyoming’s third- through 10-graders. The assessment, which replaced PAWS, tests those students on math and English language arts every year. Fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders are also tested on science.

Students are tested to have fallen into one of four areas for each content area: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced.

Because it’s the first year for WY-TOPP, or the Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress, year-to-year comparisons aren’t reliable, state education officials said Wednesday. More instructive is comparing districts to the state average.

The good news for the Natrona County School District is that its students fared well on science: Fourth-graders here beat the state average for the percentage who were at proficient and basic levels, and eighth-graders topped proficient and advanced averages.

The numbers for Natrona County were less friendly almost everywhere else. Only three grade levels topped the state average for basic, proficient or advanced on English. Natrona County students were above the advanced average just four times across the eight grade levels and three content areas.

Similarly, only five groups beat the proficient average, across all grade and content levels.

In other words, district students had 19 chances to beat the state average on proficiency across science, math and English, and 19 more to top the advanced average for those three areas. They succeeded a total of nine times.

Students here did, however, beat the state average every time for percentage of students who tested below basic levels.

Statewide, Sheridan County School District No. 2’s students consistently tested near the top: On English, that district posted the highest percentage of students who were either proficient or advanced (for fifth-grade, at 84.67 percent). Students there also had three of the top six proficient-advanced percentages for math (for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders).

On the other end of the spectrum, a handful of districts were consistently near the bottom. Three Fremont County districts posted the 12 lowest rates of students who tested at least proficient in math. Fremont County School District No. 38 specifically posted the three lowest: Fewer than 7 percent of its fourth-grade students tested proficient or better in math, 7.32 percent of its eighth-graders were at least proficient and 7.69 percent of its fifth-graders hit that mark.

The numbers were similarly grim for English. Among the Fremont County School District Nos. 38, 14 and 21, there were 24 grade levels tested — third through eighth grade in each district. The 19 lowest at least proficient rates in the state were from those three districts.

Those districts will almost certainly be targeted for more support from the state, once school and district ratings are released Nov 1. The state Department of Education’s chief policy officer, Megan Degenfelder, said that support will vary according to each district’s needs and will include things like training.

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

Dr. David Burnett looks at an area burned by the Roosevelt Fire during a tour of the fire line Tuesday. The wildfire has destroyed 40 homes and consumed more than 50,000 acres in western Wyoming.

Authorities say Roosevelt Fire has now destroyed 40 homes in western Wyoming

A wildfire burning in the Bridger-Teton National Forest has destroyed at least 40 homes, officials said late Wednesday afternoon.

The new count issued by Sublette County Sheriff’s Sgt. Travis Bingham is double a Tuesday evening estimate of at least 20 destroyed buildings. Bingham said in a statement that firefighters had saved 70 homes.

Crews were still working to assess the status of other homes in the area.

The 50,586-acre Roosevelt Fire has forced 500 people to evacuate their homes in rural subdivisions near the tiny community of Bondurant in western Wyoming. It’s also triggered the closure of U.S. Highway 191 and the stoppage of power to the Kendall Valley/Upper Green area.

Cell phone use was limited as a result of damaged infrastructure on Kismet Point.

Firefighters working the conflagration numbered 982 on Wednesday morning. They were assisted by 10 helicopters. A total of 22 aircraft battled the fire on Tuesday.

Crews have achieved 30 percent containment of the fire. Bingham said backburning efforts undertaken Tuesday have been effective but he cautioned that another day of high winds could increase the fire’s spread. Temperatures topped out in the low 60s on Tuesday but were expected to rise Wednesday. Wind gusts as high as 20 mph were predicted.

The blaze was discovered Sept. 15 about 30 miles south of Jackson Hole. Authorities have not yet publicly identified a cause.

A public meeting was scheduled for Wednesday night at Daniel Schoolhouse.

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune 

Forest area still smoldering from the Roosevelt Fire Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018.

Make-or-break Senate hearing day for Kavanaugh, accuser

WASHINGTON — With high drama in the making, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh emphatically fended off new accusations sexual misconduct Wednesday and headed into a charged public Senate hearing that could determine whether Republicans can salvage his nomination and enshrine a high court conservative majority.

The Senate Judiciary Committee — 11 Republicans, all men, and 10 Democrats — was to hear from just two witnesses today: Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge who has long been eyed for the Supreme Court, and Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor who accuses him of attempting to rape her when they were teens.

Republicans have derided her allegation as part of a smear campaign and a Democratic plot to sink Kavanaugh's nomination. But after more allegations have emerged, some GOP senators have allowed that much is riding on Kavanaugh's performance. Even President Donald Trump, who nominated Kavanaugh and fiercely defends him, said he was "open to changing my mind."

"I want to watch, I want to see," he said at a news conference in New York.

Kavanaugh himself has repeatedly denied all the allegations, saying he'd never even heard of the latest accuser and calling her accusations "ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone."

Meanwhile, an agitated Trump acknowledged Wednesday that past accusations of sexual misconduct against him have influenced the way he views similar allegations against other men, including his Supreme Court nominee.

Wading into the #MeToo moment, Trump said he views such accusations "differently" because he's "had a lot of false charges made against me." He made the comments at a news conference in New York.

During the free-wheeling news conference, Trump continued to lash out at Democrats and label the allegations against Kavanaugh politically motivated. He also expressed frustrations with the delays in the process guided by Republicans and took a shot at attorney Michael Avenatti, who is representing the latest accuser.

The hearing today will be the first time the country sees and hears from the 51-year-old Ford beyond the grainy photo that has been flashed on television in the 10 days since she came forward with her contention. In testimony released in advance of the hearing, she said she was appearing only because she felt it was her duty, was frankly "terrified" and has been the target of vile harassment and even death threats.

"It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court," she was to tell the senators. "My responsibility is to tell the truth."

The stakes for both political parties — and the country — are high. Republicans are pushing to seat Kavanaugh before the November midterms, when Senate control could fall to the Democrats and a replacement Trump nominee could have even greater difficulty. Kavanaugh's ascendance to the high court could help lock in a conservative majority for a generation, shaping dozens of rulings on abortion, regulation, the environment and more.

But Republicans also risk rejection by female voters in November if they are seen as not fully respecting women and their allegations.

In the hours before the hearing, Republicans were rocked by the new accusation from a third woman, Julie Swetnick. In a sworn statement, she said she witnessed Kavanaugh "consistently engage in excessive drinking and inappropriate contact of a sexual nature with women in the early 1980s." Her attorney, Avenatti, who also represents a porn actress who is suing Trump, provided her sworn declaration to the Judiciary Committee.

Meanwhile, the lawyer for Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they attended Yale University, raised her profile in a round of television interviews.

Transcripts of private interviews with committee investigators, released late Wednesday, show they also asked Kavanaugh about two other previously undisclosed accusations received by Senate offices. One came in an anonymous letter sent to Sen. Cory Gardner's office describing an incident in a bar in 1998, when Kavanaugh was working for the independent counsel investigating President Bill Clinton. The other accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in college. Kavanaugh denied them both.

Republicans largely expressed confidence in Kavanaugh ahead of the hearing, emerging from a closed-door lunch with Vice President Mike Pence to say the nominee remains on track for confirmation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all week has said Republicans will turn to a committee vote on Kavanaugh after the hearing. They hope for a roll call by the full Senate — where they have a scant 51-49 majority — early next week as they seek to fulfill their pledge to get him on the court before its new term starts Oct. 1.

Asked whether there were signs of Republicans wavering in their support of Kavanaugh in their lunch, Sen. John Thune, the third-ranking Republican, paused briefly before saying "no."

Questions for Ford will be aimed at giving her a chance to explain herself. That includes describing why it took her so long to publicly discuss the alleged incident and how it's affected her life, the aide said

Ford will testify first at the hearing, which starts at 10 a.m.

Republicans have hired an outside attorney, Phoenix prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, to handle much of their questioning. Thus, they will avoid having their all-male contingent interrogating Ford about the details of what she describes as a harrowing assault.