K-12 enrollment drop means less major maintenance money in Shoshoni; lawmakers consider changing the formula

When Shoshoni’s new K-12 school was constructed several years ago, the state thought there would be more students roaming the halls by now.

“(We) anticipated a student count much higher than what actually exists today,” senior school finance analyst Matthew Willmarth told the legislature’s Select Committee on School Facilities last week.

The situation presents the state with a dilemma, Willmarth said, because major maintenance funding for school facilities is currently allocated based, in part, on enrollment totals.

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That funding formula leaves about 45,000 square feet of space at Shoshoni’s new school without major maintenance support from the state, he said.

“You’ve limited the amount of major maintenance going there based upon the number of actual students,” Willmarth said.

‘Shooting ourselves in the foot’

Wyoming Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said withholding major maintenance money in Shoshoni only “erode(s) the value of our investment” in the K-12 facility there – and it’s only happening because “we miscalculated, in the beginning, the number of people that would be there.”

“That’s just shooting ourselves in the foot and then shooting ourselves in the other foot as a solution,” he said. “That’s not going to work well. …

“We should be fully funding major maintenance on that building.”

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The same is true for “any new building that we’ve built,” Rothfuss added.

Wyoming Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, agreed.

“It’s not complicated,” he said. “(If) we build a building … then we should always provide major maintenance dollars for that full amount of square feet.”

Riverton High School

There are other school facilities in Wyoming that weren’t built by the state, however – like Riverton High School, which was constructed before the Wyoming Supreme Court’s “Campbell IV” decision that shifted the responsibility for K-12 construction onto the Wyoming Legislature.

Willmarth suggested a policy could be crafted that lets the state cover 100 percent of major maintenance costs for buildings constructed with state money after the Campbell IV decision – leaving all other facilities to be funded under the current system.

“If the state is interested in preserving its assets that it invested hundreds of millions of dollars in over the course of the past 20 years, then maybe that’s the avenue you go,” he said.

Several lawmakers expressed support for the idea, but legislative legal counsel Tania Hytrek cautioned that it might generate “some questions surrounding equity” – for example, school districts with “pre-Campbell” facilities like RHS might ask why they are “being treated differently” than districts with “post-Campbell” facilities.

Pappas said there might be a “different solution” for facilities built before the Campbell IV decision.

Some of those pre-Campbell buildings require a “tremendous amount” of major maintenance money that is “difficult to justify,” Rothfuss pointed out.

But they are still part of the state’s “fleet,” Wyoming Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, said.

“We inherited those facilities,” Landen said. “We don’t want any (of them) to deteriorate.”

Pappas, who chairs the school facilities committee, asked state staffers to provide more information on the topic at a future meeting.

He also asked the staff to invite school district representatives to participate in the discussion.

The committee’s next meeting is scheduled to take place Sept. 8-9 in Cheyenne.

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