CASPER, Wyo. — Eight years after the state assumed responsibility for building and maintaining school facilities, the process still needs improvement, according to lawmakers who met Tuesday in Casper.
The Legislature's Select Committee on School Facilities approved two bills for consideration during the general session in January that aim to further define the role of the School Facilities Commission and facilities staff.
The committee was charged tasked with reorganizing the commission and reviewing its process for evaluating facility needs — a response to school district and constituent concerns.
School construction is a state, not a local responsibility, according to the Wyoming Supreme Court, and the commission was created in 2002 to take on that responsibility.
Many say the process for building and maintaining school facilities has improved greatly since Ken Daraie was appointed director in 2007. But changes in school project status and the reallocation of funding across projects had not been well communicated or documented, according to a 2009 audit of the commission. A second audit suggested that the commission could be more consistent and transparent with reports.
Daraie told lawmakers Tuesday that the department has resolved many issues since the 2009 audit and that they won't surface in the future.
“It's a work in progress,” Daraie said. “I don't have it perfect.”
The committee decided not to adopt recommendations from Gary Kloefkorn, who was hired to explore reorganizing the commission. Kloefkorn suggested decentralizing the commission, creating five regions, each with an agency to assist school districts.
“We have to become more credible and we have to be more truthful and that has to come both ways,” Kloefkorn said. “Our focus is going to shift — not so much on capital construction but the demand is there for renovation and improvement.”
The first bill approved Tuesday clearly defines a department separate from the commission, which is appointed by the governor. The bill gives the governor the power to appoint the director of the department, who is currently appointed from submissions by commissioners.
The bill outlines specific duties for each entity, with the department helping school districts develop facility plans and the commission granting approval. The commission also has to approve each district's facility plan at least once every two years.
Currently, six commissioners and the state superintendent of public instruction approve proposals. The proposed bill adds an eighth member to be appointed by the governor, which creates the possibility of tie votes.
The second bill aims to revise and clarify how to rank buildings based on need. The committee added air quality, illumination and appropriateness of student environment to the “building condition” criterion.
A provision in the bill requires the facilities department to evaluate and possibly modify the prioritization process every four years.
The process has changed several times and usually not in a way that favors the school district, said Mark Antrim, associate superintendent for facilities and technology for the Natrona County School District.
“When that yardstick changes, things don't stay the same,” Antrim said.
Lawmakers said the review was intended to update and fix possible problems.
“This provides an opportunity for a mid-course correction,” said Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock.
Contact Jackie Borchardt at email@example.com or 307-266-0593.