Volume 8, Number 41 - January 1, 2009
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SFC still involved in district funding
Last month’s Wyoming Supreme Court decision allowing both Sublette County school districts to keep two years of excess recapture funds was a welcome gift. But the financial boost hasn’t kept the districts from having the Wyoming School Facilities Commission (SFC) participate in helping fund two significant construction projects.
Sublette County School District No.1 (SCSD#1) and Sublette County School District No. 9 (SCSD#9) are in the process of building elementary schools and they are using SFC money to do it.
The districts could opt to fund the schools themselves and avoid the SFC but neither is likely to make that decision even in the face of the SFC’s long and frustrating building processes.
“I still want to work with the state … so we don’t have to spend all of our money,” SCSD#1 Business Manager Vern McAdams said. “I want to work with the state so we have money left over for the next project.”
The SFC gave SCSD#1 the go-ahead in November after a long, tedious struggle to garner approval. At the other end of the SFC spectrum, SCSD#9 is just beginning its campaign to get approval. District representatives hope to get on the SFC’s January meeting agenda where the Supreme Court victory should have no bearing on the SFC’s decision to fund either elementary school.
“Legally, it’s a non-issue with (the SFC),” McAdams said. “I think it probably chafes some (commission members) but I think they know they have to go through with it.”
Notoriously intractable, the SFC required SCSD#1 to appear in front of the commission six times before it gave a less-than-exuberant thumbs-up for construction of a new Pinedale elementary school.
The SFC was established by the Wyoming Legislature in 2002 to oversee “all aspects of construction for school facilities,” according to its Web site.
Its mission statement says the SFC is “to provide adequate educational facilities for all children in the State of Wyoming” but much of its work attempts to provide equal educational facilities. Because much of the eastern part of the state lacks the west’s economic firepower, equalizing educational facilities often means holding tight to purse strings of wealthier western school districts. Not one of the eight commissioners is from a mineral-rich western county. That fact, and the recent Supreme Court decision that provided SCSD#1 with $54 million and SCSD#9 with $19 million of their own money, might not sit well with the commission.
“I expect that we may have some additional fallout from the (SFC),” said SCSD#1 Superintendent Doris Woodbury.
She added that the SFC cannot require the district to spend its excess recapture money on the $20-million project.
“They may try, and they may delay our project to see if they can force us to do that. But they cannot require us.”
The SCF “Needs Index” has SCSD#1’s elementary school listed dead last (115th).
The SCF ranks the SCSD#9 elementary school as 15th on its “Needs Index.” Gerry Chase, SCSD#9 superintendent, said he is looking forward to partnering with the SFC on his district’s project.
“We hope to clearly communicate what our issues and our needs are, and have (the SFC) work with us to develop a solution,” he said.
In the end, the excess recapture money might keep taxpayer money in the taxpayer’s pockets. The extra revenues can be used to fund the projects that otherwise may have required public money.
“We can pay our share,” McAdams said. “We don’t have to raise a bond issue and come up with money that way.”
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