CASPER — Legislators aren’t going far enough to hold school districts accountable for the money they receive from the state, and they should involve more views in discussions about state funding, according to Gov. Dave Freudenthal.
The Select Committee on School Finance, which began meeting in April, hasn’t made a “vigorous effort” to reach out to teachers, principals, parents and taxpayers, the governor wrote in a letter addressed to the committee’s co-chairmen. The committee meets every five years to “recalibrate,” or evaluate, the public school funding model to ensure it aligns with costs.
The committee meets monthly, often to a room of school district business managers and superintendents.
At the July meetings in Lander, the committee heard from the Wyoming Education Association and Wyoming School Boards Association. The groups presented ideas for holding schools accountable for the money they receive.
But professional groups aren’t enough, according to Freudenthal.
He asked the committee to actively seek input from a wider range of people now, before changes have been made.
The committee is gathering feedback from a wide variety of constituents, said Rep. Del McOmie, R-Lander, the committee co-chairman.
“That’s what we’re working toward — exactly what he’s saying,” McOmie said. “I’ve been asking members of school boards and principals to come.”
Meeting during the summer when educators take vacations hasn’t been easy. In their absence, the committee turned to representative groups, McOmie said.
Testimony from educators was some of the best heard yet, said Sen. Mike Massie, D-Laramie, a committee member.
“In my opinion, we should have been talking directly with educators before we started talking with our California consultant, but better late than never,” said Massie, the Democratic candidate for state superintendent of public instruction.
Each school district receives a “block grant” with recommendations for how to spend money on personnel and services for their differing student populations.
The recommendations are based on research by the Larry O. Picus consulting firm in California.
People can address the committee’s work through the Legislature’s website, but only a handful of comments have been received that way, Massie said. He said the committee needs to continue face-to-face communication because it’s what works best in Wyoming.
“Folks in Wyoming don’t think in terms of the Internet when they want to talk to someone,” Massie said. “And I don’t think that’s at all bad.”
Freudenthal also said those voices need to be heard, especially in discussions about a plan to hold school districts accountable for state funding.
Again, McOmie said, the committee has discussed accountability at length and will continue to explore ways to measure outcomes. First, educators and the committee need to identify the desired outcomes, such as graduation rates and teaching effectiveness.
In June, consultant Allan Odden recommended an outcome-based accountability system where schools and districts are rewarded or sanctioned for achieving or falling short of tough, yet attainable goals.
Rewards might include pay increases, and sanctions might mean pay freezes or dismissals.
The system would be implemented slowly during the first year and would send a strong signal about the kind of results the Legislature wants, Odden said.
The committee is looking for advice to establish those measures, and school districts are willing to help, said Natrona County School District Superintendent Joel Dvorak.
“Time is short for them, and this is not a simple thing to do, to balance recommendations,” Dvorak said.
Natrona County closely adheres to the funding model, but districts shouldn’t be punished for not following the model if they see success, Dvorak said.
Dvorak attended the July meetings and said the committee is headed in the right direction.
“There’s some great people in the state of Wyoming that can build a model that makes sense,” Dvorak said.
Contact Jackie Borchardt at jackie.borchardt@trib. com or 307-266-0593.