By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The Wyoming School Board Association has expressed its opposition to a recently proposed bill that would consolidate Wyoming’s school district from 48 to 24.
House Bill 77 is sponsored by Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, and co-sponsored by a number of other legislators, including Rep. Chuck Gray and Sen. Lynn Hutchings.
“I think it’s fairly evident the Wyoming School Board Association opposes this bill,” WBSA executive director Brian Farmer told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “One of the things that’s fundamental to us is local control and local governance. Plus, many schools act as the center of their small communities.”
This bill proposes each of Wyoming’s 23 counties should have one school district, along with one district for the Wind River Reservation.
Farmer noted that the state’s last major effort at consolidating school districts occurred in the 1970s and could be described as “tense.”
“I’ve heard stories of fist fights when it came to school consolidation,” he said.
Fremont County has eight school districts and Uinta County, which has three, are considered prime examples of counties with too many school districts in Zwonitzer’s opinion.
On the other hand, Natrona County only has one district and Laramie County has two. The two are the state’s largest counties by population.
“My overall goal is not to impact teacher pay or put 35 kids in a classroom,” Zwonitzer told Cowboy State Daily this week. “This won’t be the be-all, end-all solution, but if we could save 10% to 15% of our budget with this, that’s huge.”
Farmer said that consolidation could happen in some counties on a case-by-case basis, but lawmakers and administrators would need to ask how consolidation would benefit the community and where consolidation would be the most beneficial.
Instead of consolidating school districts, Farmer suggested sharing resources as a cost-saving measure.
“For example, a couple districts want to offer the same language program. Then, you could get a teacher to go to different schools in the county and teach that program, instead of hiring a separate teacher for each school,” Farmer said. “The sharing of resources across district boundaries certainly would be worthwhile.”
The Wyoming Education Association did not respond to a request for comment regarding the bill.