CHEYENNE – School safety continues to be a widely discussed topic across the country, including in Wyoming.
The Legislature’s Joint Education Interim Committee met Wednesday and Thursday in Lander. Members discussed a variety of subjects, but discussion of school safety and security was, perhaps, the most heated.
Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, said part of that included a discussion of a $9 million appropriation from 2014 that the state School Facilities Division divided among school districts to use for improving security.
“Quite a few of the school districts submitted requests, but have not done anything in four years with the money that was provided to them,” he said. “I have a little bit of heartburn with that.”
Brown said some districts said it will cost more to improve their security than they could cover with the money they received.
“If you go out to rural areas, it’s hard to get a contractor out there, and when they do, they’re far more expensive than the School Facilities (Division) gave them money for,” he explained.
In the end, the division needs about $65 million more to cover all the necessary security measures in the schools.
“We’re still not 100 percent certain that, even if we offered the $65 million, if we could get contractors out to all of these schools to implement these issues,” Brown said.
The committee also heard testimony from various school districts about ALICE active shooter training. ALICE stands for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate.
Andrea Nester, the risk management coordinator for Natrona County School District 1 in Casper, told the committee she has trained six or seven Wyoming school districts in ALICE.
Brown said a large number of school districts in the state, including Laramie County School District 1, still use a lockdown-only method, despite guidance from the U.S. Department of Education stating that lockdown-only methods are unacceptable.
He said Park County School District 6 trained all its employees in ALICE at minimal cost.
Brown explained that Ray Schulte, superintendent of Park County School District 6, said his employees are thrilled with the program.
“They inquired about taking this even further for student safety, assisting where they can and continuously being trained on the same topic,” he said.
Brown added that Schulte said most of the cost was from taking teachers out of the classroom to attend the four-hour training. Otherwise, it cost the district a couple hundred dollars, he said.
Brown said he probably will bring a bill asking the Legislature to provide money for all the districts to obtain ALICE training.
Brown also said the committee discussed how the state’s education accountability system works. But he said most of the discussion regarded teacher and school accountability.
“Two years ago, we had a bill that went through that changed the accountability for administrators. It took test scores out of the accountability for administrators,” he said.
That means, for example, that the overall test scores at a school may not be a consideration in a school principal’s evaluation.
Brown said Brian Farmer of the Wyoming School Boards Association said he’d like to see test scores removed from teacher accountability, as well.
“I don’t know that that one will actually be coming forward,” he said.
However, he said the committee will bring forward a bill in the 2019 legislative session to continue funding for the National Board Certified Teacher Program.
“That bill died last year. That will be resurrected this year, with both houses sponsoring that as a Joint Education bill,” Brown said.
The bill would allow National Board Certified teachers to continue to receive a $4,000 stipend each year for 10 years, he said.
The committee also heard from several school district business managers about the need to allow districts to keep more than 15 percent in cash reserves – the highest amount allowed by state law, Brown said.
He added that district officials said they use much of their reserves to cover payroll and benefits during June and July, when districts don’t received payments from the state.
Brown explained that the state doesn’t apply savings restrictions on any other governmental agency, but he added that he doesn’t believe legislators will consider increasing the allowed percentage.
“We’re hearing a lot right now that they don’t have enough money to make ends meet, so it would be really hard for us to believe that they would be needing more room for additional savings,” Brown said.
The committee next meets Sept. 27-28 at Casper College.
To go directly to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's website, click here.