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Campbell County school board authorizes lawsuit against State of Wyoming

Wyoming State Capitol in Cheyenne. (Stock Photo)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — Campbell County School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved a motion tonight to take legal action against the State of Wyoming.

Board Chair Anne Ochs addressed the public for about 6 minutes after a closed executive session meeting Nov. 15.

Ochs said the board has been unsuccessfully trying for years to move and replace the existing bus barn, which was built in the 1970s and is rated for 60 buses. The district now has 251 vehicles, making the bus barn 400% over capacity, she said. As one of the two oldest high schools in Wyoming, Campbell County High School, which was built in 1971, also needs to be renovated or rebuilt, she said.

She said the district has followed the process to gain the funding, but the process, the state designed to allocate the funding hasn’t been followed. A couple of school districts in the past couple of weeks have bypassed the School Facilities Commission and gone directly to the Legislature, and $120 million was tentatively approved, she said.

Campbell County School District has sent the state more than $1 billion to the State of Wyoming in school recapture payments to support other districts and build other districts’ new buildings, she said.

The lawsuit also relates to teacher salaries.

Wyoming provides a $37,000 base salary for beginning teachers to all school districts, which is the same as it was in 2010 and less than the average starting salary in the U.S., Ochs said. Campbell County School District provides beginning teachers a starting salary of $49,500, and it’s cut 55 positions in the past five years to make up the difference, Ochs said.

“We have tried to keep these cuts as far away from classrooms as possible, but it has cut opportunities for both our students and staff,” she said.

The school district hired 100 teachers this year and had 44 positions left unfilled, among classified and non-classified sectors, she said. Fifty-eight teachers have an exception authorization. Cost of living increases for staff have been temporary, ignored or denied by the Legislature, despite state law and evidence supporting an increase to educators’ salaries, she said. Staff take-home pay has been reduced through increased costs in health insurance and retirement contributions, she said.

The state has to determine the curriculum for Wyoming schools and funding its costs, she said.

The Wyoming Legislative Service Office determined the state underfunded schools by $20.7 million in 2020-2021 and $29.8 million in 2021-2022 and estimated that the Legislature will underfund districts by $53.8 million in 2022-2023 and $90.8 million in 2023-2024, she said.

“The funding of Wyoming schools is no longer cost-based, and the Legislature has failed to meet its obligation,” she said.

Here’s the resolution the board unanimously passed:

While Trustee David Foreman is in Montana for a medical appointment, he said he supports the lawsuit, Ochs said.

Ochs said Campbell County taxpayers “have more than done their job” to fund K-12 education.

According to Don Dihle, who formerly worked as the school district’s business manager, the funding issue is a direct result of the Wyoming Legislature’s actions to use funds from the Wyoming School Foundation account for purposes other than operating K-12 schools, Ochs said.