Government lesson breaks out during Riverton school board meeting; Local school control feared under attack
(Riverton, Wyo.) – By all outward appearances, the Tuesday night regular meeting of the Fremont County School District #25 Board of Trustees seemed routine. There was an agenda and a consent agenda that was approved at the top of the session, but that’s when it all changed.
After an impassioned plea from two Riverton High School students who said they did not feel safe in their school in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shootings, Superintendent Terry Synder launched into a nearly 30 minute presentation on the Wyoming legislature’s effort to cut education funding, again, which he said would have direct and negative impact on such District-wide programs as the School Resource Officers and Technology assistants and, at Riverton High School, such programs as Culinary Arts, to name only a few.
“We fund these programs out of the block grant provided by the legislature, and if that funding stream is changed, reduced or eliminated, we will not be able to offer things we feel are necessary,” Snyder said. “In the last round of legislative cutting, we eliminated one principal’s position, cut 17 classified and certified personnel and we we eliminated 20 coaching and sponsor positions. That is what we did last year. We need to have the core areas, but the programs around the periphery get impacted and we could lose the School Resource Officers and Tech Support positions.”
Snyder told the students, and about another dozen of them who were in the audience, “We want to keep our allocation as a block grant, not for the legislature to micromanage us, so we can use those funds for our SROs and such. They disregarded an outside consultants report that education funding was deficient by $71-million dollars and now they are cutting again.”
Snyder also said a proposal in front of lawmakers on reducing health insurance payments could result in a $1-million loss of funding to the school district.
Chairman Carl Manning did not hold back his frustration. “Wyoming has a one party system with two houses. In the past we’ve thought the Senate was our savior because of the crazy House, but the last two years, it’s been the rational House and the unpredictable Senate. This year it is three times worse in terms of disfunction, but that is just one viewpoint shared with other state school board members,” he said.
Snyder said it appeared to him that the legislature “is trying to undo local control” of the schools. “Since 2006, the Legislature has moved $2.6 Billion (with a “B”) from the School Foundation Account to other programs. If they hadn’t taken that $2.6 Billion, we’d be fine today.” Snyder said his hope from the latest consultant’s report would go away from cuts to finding additional revenue, “but it went the other way.”
“We have the best educational system (in Wyoming) west of the Mississippi, and they want to undo that,” Snyder said. “Wyoming is now 19th in average salary, and we used to be in the top five. I’m worried about recruiting excellent teachers.” The Superintendent noted that in FCSD#25, “we’ve had three pay freezes in the last four years. You can only do that so so long before people start leaving,”
“There is a lot on the line at the legislature, a lot on the line for Wyoming education,” he said.
Snyder, addressing the students, said “these students thought they were coming to a board meeting and ended up in a government class.”