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Legislature keeps school funding level

School superintendent reflects on education-related bills

Actions taken by the Wyoming Legislature left Powell school administrators with some concerns, but not as many as they feared.

“We started out the session with a lot of anxiety,” said Kevin Mitchell, Park County School District No. 1 superintendent.  “But as the dust settled, most of those concerns were left behind.”

A major worry going into the session was the recalibration of the state’s funding model for the state’s schools, but Mary Lewis, coordinator of business services for the district, said funding levels will remain about the same.

“It was pleasant that we saw no reductions,” Lewis said.

At one point, Lewis said, there was a move to cut reimbursement to the schools for transportation, but that attempt failed.

“They left transportation funding at 100 percent,” Lewis said. “A reduction would really have hurt, especially now with fuel prices going up.”

Another positive was that the Legislature included increases in the employer share of payments into the Wyoming Retirement System in the model, Lewis said.

The actual amount of funding available to Powell won’t be known until Lewis receives the details from the state, but she said the only increased funding to the district will be to cover health insurance costs increases.

Lewis credited representatives Dave Bonner, R-Powell, and Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, for “helping us out” by providing data to the Legislature about local funding.

“(The Legislature) used our data in making their decisions,” she said.

Mitchell said there will be other changes, however.

“They left us with legislation that will probably change the way we do things,” Mitchell said.

Of particular concern is the new legislation regarding teacher and school accountability, which Mitchell said “is welcome, but the devil is in the details.”

The Legislature mandated that districts measure teacher performance annually, which Powell schools already do. They also directed the state to find a way to tie teacher performance to student academic improvement, and Mitchell said that concerns him.

“There is no one assessment that can truly determine if you are effective as a teacher,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell noted in a previous interview that he knows of no objective test to measure student progress in such areas as family and consumer science, performing arts and physical education that could be applied to teacher evaluation.

The Legislature focused on education issues based on the belief that Wyoming students are not getting the quality of education expected, given that the state spends $1.5 billion annually on education.

Among other measures passed during the session were mandates to create a statewide system of measuring student progress in public schools and to develop strategies to turn around under-achieving schools.

Education legislation that failed included an attempt to modify or eliminate the state’s continuing contract system for retaining teachers, a measure to make it easier to establish charter schools in the state and a modification of the Hathaway Success Curriculum required of students wishing to qualify for the highest levels of the state’s Hathaway scholarships.

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