Wyoming is proud of its small schools that serve kids across rugged and remote terrain. But lawmakers and educators are weighing whether small schools and small districts are financially sustainable.
At a meeting of the Select Committee for School Finance Recalibration last week, education consultants hired by the state legislature presented consolidation as a way to increase course offerings and extracurricular activities.
They said by combining smaller districts cost savings could be achieved through the reduction of administrative positions. They also mentioned that larger districts that purchase supplies in larger quantities often get a better price. But the consultants cautioned lawmakers there could also be unforeseen costs. They said, for example, that schools might have to spend money purchasing common textbooks and new instructional resources. The consultants have yet to provide specific numbers to go along with the options presented to the committee.
Without the weighing the financial implications, lawmakers see resource sharing amongst districts as more politically viable than consolidation. Janine Bay Teske serves on the Teton County School District board. She agreed that stronger collaboration across the state could make a difference.
“The sharing of best practices to me is one of the biggest challenges,” said Bay Teske. “As I sat here and listened to a lot of the discussion . . . we need to develop some sort of repository with these best practices, because if we work on them individually within our own districts the state won’t benefit as a whole.”
Laramie Representative Cathy Connolly said there are districts that are already working together to save money, but the legislature could do more to make sure this is happening statewide.
“That’s what we want to get a handle on before we go into the session,” said Connolly. “What, if anything, can we do immediately to help facilitate those kinds of good ideas? Because right now we don’t have best mechanisms to do it.”
Connolly requested that the consultants provide lawmakers with more details about governance and finance models that encourage resource sharing and the implementation of best practices. That information is expected before the 2018 Budget Session begins in February.