State Senate Candidate Responses: How do you propose the legislature fund school construction?

(Gillette, Wyo.) Senate districts 1 and 23 in Campbell County have contested races this year.

As part of our goal here at County 17 of informing voters for the upcoming primaries, we are sending out unique questions for each candidate in those races to let you better know your candidates.

The primaries are Aug. 21.

Previous responses:

Why Should People Elect You to Represent Them in the Wyoming Legislature?

How do you plan to balance the time requirements with your own career or life?

How Will Mineral Taxes Impact Wyoming’s Future?

There is a lot of discussion that coal revenues will continue to decline. It has been a number of years since any new coal leases and the state is no longer receiving coal bid bonus monies for school construction. Given the Wyoming Supreme Court’s decisions which necessitate all children receive equal educational opportunity, how do you propose the legislature fund school construction? (limit 400 words)

Ogden Driskill (District 01)

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Wyoming will have to get creative to fund not only new construction, but maintenance of our existing schools.  I am a big believer that local districts should have to vote for new facilities-without skin in the game, there is little effort at making the facilities economically feasible—when you are spending someone else’s money cost rarely is an issue.  Our move towards socialism in our construction, maintenance and education of students in Wyoming has been a colossal failure.  We do not have the dollars to fund open ended spending without checks.   When the money is raised locally, you will find the local input is greater.  We have created a socialist system for construction and maintenance that does not work.

There will always be more perceived need for facilities than there is money.  We have replaced many schools in Wyoming that were adequate.  There never will be true equal educational opportunity—I am sure there will be more court decisions in the future addressing this.  The examples abound in Senate District 1.  In Gillette students have French, German, advanced Math, English, have swimming pools etc—the list goes on and on, while smaller schools offer very little other than the basics, yet the costs per student are much higher in the small schools.

I think ultimately, we need to recognize the fact there is no way to provide all children a EQUAL educational opportunity.  What we need to do is block grant funds to LOCAL school boards and allow the local boards decide what is a quality educational opportunity for their students.  What a school board has for educational priority’s in Gillette may not be the same in Moorcroft or Upton.  The legislature, Federal Government and State Department of Education have gone off the deep end in telling educators how to educate our students.  Decisions on how to educate and what to teach should be left to the local level.

I have watched bills come through the legislature dictating that local boards be forced to teach CPR, History of specific Native American tribes, kindergarten hours and age etc.  The constitution is clear that curriculum is a LOCAL schools prerogative, yet we continue to micromanage the education system.  We have trained professionals that have dedicated their lives to education—why should a group of legislators that have little or no professional training tell our local boards and educators what is best for our students?

Judy McCullough (District 01)

First, the school buildings in Wyoming should be in excellent shape considering all of the building that has been done.  Had the entity that was in charge of the school buildings not wasted so much money, they might be in a better position at this time to continue improving school buildings.  If we return the school to the local districts and communities, it should be up to them to build buildings through passing bond issues.  Local people will not pass bond issues if the people feel they are not needed and thereby accountability is returned to the ones paying the bill, thus eliminating the wasteful spending we have seen.  Good maintenance of the existing building would help them last much longer.

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Lenard D. Seely (District 01)

Candidate did not respond to questionnaire.


Jeff Raney (District 23)

(No photo provided.)

Candidate did not respond to this question.

Jeff Wasserburger (District 23)

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I do think that we will see some coal lease bonus funds in the future as local coal mines bid on tracts of land to continue to mine. So, I don’t think that the well is dry.  I do think that it will be much less than it has been in the past.  Your question is a fair one.  Where will the legislature get the money to build new schools.  One of the answers is that the state of Wyoming has actually gotten ahead of the construction needs for schools in a recent study conducted on all the schools throughout the state.

So I don’t think that we will need the amount of money that the legislature has spent in the past.  We traditionally have spent about $120 million dollars per year or more.  So that amount might be closer to $80 million.  So, combine the small amount of money from coal lease bonus funds which estimates are that it should come to $15 million per year and the smaller amount of money needed to build schools, the issue becomes a little less daunting.

Realistically, I think that the legislature needs about $65 million dollars to fund school capital construction.  I also think that the legislature can divert funds from various different accounts to help generate more revenue for school construction.  I would look at the Wyoming Permanent Mineral Trust fund for that funding.  This would require a constitutional amendment passed by the legislature and the people of Wyoming.  Also, the Common School Reserve Account could be diverted to help build schools.  This would also require a constitutional amendment to be passed.  If the legislature and the people of Wyoming chose to do so by diverting revenue streams and flow that money into school capital construction the state could fund new school construction without any additional taxes.  If the people of Wyoming and the legislature chose not to do so, the legislature would be required to do something different.