School districts seek higher cap on reserve accounts

SHERIDAN — Administrators from local school districts asked legislators to push for an increase in the amount districts can keep in reserves, especially as budgets tighten across the state.

Currently, school districts by law can keep 15% of their budgets in reserves.

Sheridan County School District 2 Superintendent Craig Dougherty said a higher cap on reserves would allow districts to continue funding student programs when revenues are down.

Dougherty also noted school districts are not currently encouraged to be fiscally responsible, because if they have any funds remaining beyond the 15% allowed in reserves, the money goes back to Cheyenne. So rather than send the funding back to the state, districts spend it.

“We need to reward those who try to not just spend the money while they’ve got it because they’ve got it,” Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said.

Representatives from Sheridan County School Districts 1 and 3 also advocated for a higher cap on reserve accounts.

Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, said legislators attempted to increase the cap during the special session held earlier this year, but the effort failed. He encouraged school boards to work together and with school board associations to promote the idea to legislators.

Kinskey noted, though, the sell may be a difficult one.

In the past, he said, some districts have expressed concerns about not having enough funding, then would announce plans to spend big dollars out of their reserves on things like pools.

“It creates a credibility gap,” Kinskey said. “Nobody here is doing that, but you know the districts I’m talking about. That’s what we have to overcome.”

The discussion about the cap on reserves came during the legislative forum hosted by the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce last week.

The school administrators touched on a number of topics, including the need to provide ideas on how to reduce spending and increase efficiencies in Wyoming’s education system.

Dougherty said the Legislature needs to work harder to hold districts accountable for where dollars are spent. He emphasized legislators should be asking how children are performing in school, whether they are proficient in various subjects and if not, determine the cause.

“We need a radical look at how we fund education and accountability,” Dougherty said.

While Dougherty promoted the idea for more accountability, though, the Wyoming Legislature’s Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee passed a bill through committee allowing districts, along with counties and municipalities, to only publish meeting minutes and salary information on their own websites as opposed to in local newspapers.

It’s a move they claim will save the government entities, though none of the legislators could say just how much the move would save.

Representatives of the Wyoming Press Association told legislators the amount saved would be less than 1% of operating budgets for those government agencies.

Northern Wyoming Community College District President Walter Tribley also presented to the legislators, noting budget cuts the district made earlier this year and the resulting third attempt by Campbell County to form its own district.

He said he doesn’t oppose the action, as long as doing so doesn’t hurt the funding for the seven existing community college districts in Wyoming.

Kinskey asked for a list of pros and cons regarding the potential new district, which could end up before the Legislature at its next session.

“It’s great to see children grow up and fly the nest,” Kinskey said. “You just don’t want them taking the silver with them.”

The Wyoming Community College Commission will meet Nov. 20 in Cheyenne to consider the Campbell County application.


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