SHERIDAN — Wyoming’s possible future education model became clearer earlier this week.
Augenbach, Palaich and Associates, the consulting group in charge of state recalibration, released a report Monday with funding recommendations on various topics, including class sizes, teacher salaries and school district consolidation.
However, important financial information remains unknown, including how the cost of the APA recommendations compares to the current state funding model. Those numbers will come out Jan. 12 and will be discussed at the next Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration meeting Jan. 29 and 30.
APA determined that Wyoming school districts spend about $3,900 per teacher above what the current block funding model provides for annual salaries and recommended an increase in salary funding that more closely aligns with what districts actually pay.
“The degree to which districts pay teachers above the model salary suggests that they believe the model salary is insufficient to attract and retain high-quality teachers,” the APA report states.
The consultants also recommended an increase in student-teacher ratio for both elementary and secondary grade levels.
The elementary class size would increase from a 16:1 ratio to about 18:1, and secondary ratios would increase from 21:1 to 23:1, which may result in funding decreases for school districts. However, school district funding would likely remain about the same when combining the ratio increases with teacher salary increases.
APA determined that school district consolidation would result in some savings, but would also increase costs in some places. Regardless, consolidation does not appear to be a short-term possibility, neither in the state nor county. Sheridan County School District 3 superintendent Charles Auzqui mentioned that if the three county districts consolidated, SCSD3 would have to increase its employee pay scale to meet the SCSD2 level, resulting in higher costs.
“I think SCSD2 employees make $6,500 more on their base than we do, so if we were to increase to that level, that would erase any savings just by bringing the rest of the employees in the county up to that same pay scale,” Auzqui said.
Other APA recommendation topics included additional funding for at-risk and English language learner students; decreasing funding for assistant principals and increasing funding for school computer technicians.
After the Jan. 29 and 30 meetings, the recalibration committee may sponsor a bill recommending APA’s proposed changes to the funding model, or it might do nothing and keep the current model. The last time recalibration was a possibility, in 2015, the committee took no action because the recommendations closely aligned with the model that was already in place.
Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, a member of the Joint Interim Education Committee, said the report was about what he expected. Kinner said it is still too early to tell whether or not the recalibration committee will bring forward a bill proposal based on the APA recommendations.
“Let’s wait and see and at this point not get nervous until we see the numbers,” Kinner said.
Sheridan County School District 1 superintendent Marty Kobza said the recommended price figures to be similar to the current model.
“Just from a long-distance view, when I look at it, I really don’t see much of a difference in what our current model requires and what this model will probably calculate to,” Kobza said. “I can’t help but think it’ll look very similar … But I’d hate to make too many predictions before we see the final numbers.”
Kobza believes the recommendations will either be taken all together or not at all. The recalibration committee can’t take out parts or pieces that it likes or doesn’t like, he said.
Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, a member of the recalibration committee, declined comment until he had properly examined APA’s report, which came in at 552 pages in length.
Crucial information will come from APA in a few weeks, but as the clock ticks closer to the official legislative session beginning Feb. 12, the education funding issue in Wyoming presents more questions than answers.