SHERIDAN — Proper practices for inter-district student transportation in Wyoming are ambiguous after the Wyoming Department of Education removed a portion of its rules that prohibited school districts from transporting students who live in other districts without the permission of the resident district.
The question of interdistrict busing landed on the agenda of the Joint Education Committee’s November meeting after Fremont County School District 21 Assistant Superintendent Kirk Schmidt wrote in a letter to the JEC that Fremont County School Districts 14 and 6 had been transporting students from FCSD21 without its permission.
Schmidt said FCSD21 learned that the districts had contracted with the Wind River Transportation Authority to transport students residing in FCSD21 and had been doing so for several years without the district’s knowledge.
FCSD21 had previously allowed the other districts to transport resident students but revoked permission in a July 2017 letter after the completion of a new high school in the district.
Schmidt wrote that since the districts were not using school buses, they were not technically in violation of the rule, “but they certainly are violating the intent of the rule.”
WYDOE Chief of Staff Dicky Shanor explained to the JEC the Wyoming Department of Education had been asked to review its transportation-related rules for efficiencies over the past two and a half years by the Government Efficiency Committee, Joint Appropriations Committee and Joint Education Committee.
In reviewing the WYDOE rules, Shanor said the department removes rules that are in direct conflict with legislation that has changed or are redundant when considered with the laws.
The removed section of chapter 20 of WYDOE’s rules stated, “No district shall send a school bus into another school district for the purposes of loading or discharging students of the other district without the consent of the school boards concerned.”
“That only speaks to if a bus goes into another district and transports kids that are enrolled in that district,” Shanor said. “But this rule does not speak to A coming to grab a kid out of B if he’s enrolled in A.”
Shanor argued the rules as they stood did not solve the problem, and transportation rules are not the appropriate vehicle to govern enrollment practices.
But JEC Chair Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, contends removing the rules exacerbated the issue.
“It was a problem that was previously already being encountered in some districts,” Northrup said. “It’s happening now — already — and they were trying to get clarification on it and to get it stopped, and instead the rules are basically saying, ‘eh, have a free-for-all.’”
Aside from the department rules, Shanor pointed out an apparent ambiguity in the underlying statute. Subsection A of the statute allows the resident district to arrange for a student to enroll in another district, while subsection B says that any district in the same state can admit students residing in any other district in the state unless certain conditions are met, none of which concern the consent of the resident district.
Shanor argued on behalf of WYDOE that subsections A and B taken together require consent, but do not when taken separately.
Schmidt wrote that the district learned the deputy attorney general for WYDOE had issued an opinion that the rule was in conflict with the underlying legislation, but Shanor told the JEC the rule was removed for redundancy rather than conflict.
“That’s our interpretation — that it could potentially conflict — but regardless it’s superfluous,” Shanor said in an interview with The Sheridan Press. “If you interpret B by itself, then it would conflict. If you interpreted A and B together, then it might be consistent, but again, if it’s consistent, it’s superfluous, so you don’t need it anyway.”
Northrup believes the desire of districts to enroll non-resident students is financially motivated, since an increased average daily membership increases districts’ funding.
“That’s what it’s all about. If you can get more students into your district, the more money you will have,” Northrup said.
Northrup said the state is unconcerned about it because the students are all receiving education.
“I’m sure that districts are unhappy with it, that instead of it being in rules we’ll have to put it in statutes and clarify it there,” Northrup said. “I’m not sure that it’s getting straightened out in the (WYDOE). We’re not getting some facts and figures, and we’re not getting all the story from the department like we’d like to.”
Northrup said the issue would likely need to be resolved through legislation likely coming from Fremont County, but the bill would have to be sponsored by an individual legislator since it’s too late for the committee to sponsor it this year. In the meantime, Shanor said WYDOE will be proceeding with its rules as proposed. Shanor also said several districts in Fremont County submitted letters to the JEC refuting Schmidt’s letter.