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Education
Lawmakers to consider school finance, computer science bills at Tuesday meeting

Lawmakers will discuss draft legislation today to cut more than $16 million from schools and to add computer science to the state’s educational program for all students.

The slew of proposals — lawmakers have six draft measures on their agenda — come as the Joint Education Interim Committee works to have bills ready for the entire Legislature, which will meet in February.

Four of the seven bills form the committee’s attempt to satisfy the top priority assigned to it by legislative leaders: examine school finance (though to a much lesser degree than the lawmakers on the recalibration committee). Three of those four have the most sizable ramifications.

The first, titled “school finance amendments,” would make a number of adjustments to education funding, which — taken together — would cut roughly $16.3 million from schools. Some of the changes in the bill are relatively minor — such as barring districts from leasing buses.

Others have larger implications. For instance, the bill would alter how schools calculate their enrollment, which is the driver of how much money school districts receive from the state. Right now, average daily membership — or ADM, the specific calculation of enrollment used by the state to determine funding — is determined on a school-by-school basis.

That becomes confusing because the state allows schools with falling enrollment two choices to blunt the loss of students and loss of dollars. The school can choose to calculate their ADM based on the average of the past three years, or it can choose to use last year’s ADM.

Essentially, schools with fewer students are given the opportunity to choose the most favorable measurement of their enrollment to protect their funding.

But because that happens on a building-by-building basis, one school can be calculating on a three-year average while another can count by its previous year, which can then mean some students who change schools are counted more than once.

It’s confusing. But the bill would require the decision — three-year average versus previous year — be made on a district level, bringing uniformity between individual schools. That change would save the state more than $10 million a year.

Another change in the measure would eliminate extra compensation payments to teachers. Under current law, districts can pay teachers — either through bonuses, housing stipends or a combination — to live in more unique locations. That would cut $2.35 million. A change to how groundskeepers are calculated for site maintenance would bring more than $3 million back to the state.

Health insurance

While the exact impact of the school finance bill has been calculated, the two other significant funding-related measures that the committee will look at are less clear in what effect they could have on district dollars.

Along a point of interest for some legislators, including education committee co-chairman Hank Coe, health insurance is currently provided for in the funding model but is not necessarily tied to its actual use. To use a fictional example: A district could be receiving $2 million for health insurance while its employees may be spending only $1.5 million on those associated costs.

The bills would seek to change that. The first would require that districts offer employees health insurance through the state’s health plan. Currently, only one district — Natrona County — does so.

The second bill would require that funding for health payments be closer pegged to the number of employees actually using it.

Legislative staff have said the fiscal impact of these changes is unknown.

Computer science

The committee will also look at a bill to add computer science to the educational program offered to every student in Wyoming. It would further allow computer science to stand in for one year of science in the graduation requirements.

To get computer science into the educational program, the bill would add it and computational thinking into the common core of knowledge and common core of skills, respectively.

Computer science could also stand in for math in the Hathaway Scholarship success curriculum, though only if it is not used as a stand-in for one year of science as a graduation requirement.

The bill would also allow districts to use some funding for professional development related to teaching computer science.

Elsewhere

The education committee will also consider a bill related to accountability in alternative schools and a bill that would cut state funding for charter schools.

All of the bills are in their earliest stages. Though lawmakers have discussed the ideas on a broad level and then directed legislative staff to draft legislation around those discussions, this will be the first time they’ve been in actual bill form. Lawmakers may amend them to pieces, tweak them slightly, move them on to the entire Legislature largely intact or table them.


File, Star-Tribune 

Darla Huggins helps direct students shortly before classes start during the last day of the 2016 school year at Manor Heights Elementary in Casper.


Casper
HOGADON SKI AREA
Hogadon's new lodge readies for ski season

Skiing didn’t gain popularity in most of the country until after World War II, but people were already sliding down Casper Mountain by the 1930s, according to Bruce Lamberson, the owner of Mountain Sports in Casper.

“It was one of the earliest ski areas in the country,” he said.

Lamberson, who was speaking about the history of Casper Mountain at the Casper Rotary Club’s Monday meeting, explained that Casper has a “lot of heritage” when it comes to the wintertime sport.

And that heritage is still going strong today.

About 250 people attended the recent open house for Hogadon Basin Ski Area’s new city-owned lodge, said Lamberson.

“It was wonderful,” he recalled. “It was a huge event with mountain residents and outdoor enthusiasts and we had a blast.”

The Nov. 4 event included wine-tasting, hors d’oeuvres and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Skiers and snowboarders used to complain about a variety of issues at the old lodge: The building wasn’t handicapped-accessible, there weren’t enough bathrooms and purchasing ski passes and rental equipment involved going to separate locations.

But the new two-story facility features multiple bathrooms, a bar area with indoor and outdoor seating, a spacious dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows and an elevator that makes the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Due to the additional space, purchasing ski passes, lessons and paying for rentals can now be done at the same location.

City Manager Carter Napier was unable to attend the opening, but said he was impressed when he toured the facility a few days prior.

“I thought it looked wonderful,” he said. “To call it an improvement over the old facility is a huge understatement.”

Although the project’s $5.3 million price tag generated some controversy when it was approved in spring 2016, Mayor Kenyne Humphrey previously told the Star-Tribune that she thinks most residents have since embraced the idea.

The mayor added that a new facility was sorely needed.

“Hogadon really just kind of started falling apart over the last decade,” she said. “It actually reached a point where the building was structurally unsafe.”

City officials are hoping the new lodge will appeal to more than just skiers and snowboarders. Hikers and mountain bikers can use the facility in the warmer months, and the venue can be rented out for holiday parties, weddings or other events all throughout the year.


Crime-and-courts
Man arrested after police say he pulled a gun in Starbucks parking lot

A Casper man was arrested Friday morning after he pulled a gun on another man in a Starbucks parking lot, police say.

Michael R. Arnall, 64, was arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault and battery in the parking lot, which is next to the Eastridge Mall.

Arnall told a Casper police officer that he was sitting in a parked vehicle when he felt two loud “crashes,” according to an arrest affidavit.

The other man told police he had accidentally hit Arnall’s car with his own door.

Arnall thought the other man was going to drive away, so he pulled a .32-caliber pistol and pressed it against the window, according to the affidavit.

The other man told police he had attempted to leave because Arnall was yelling at him.

Arnall was arrested on the scene. After being handcuffed, he shouted obscenities at the other man for “smirking” at him, according to the affidavit.

Police also found a .22-caliber rifle in Arnall’s vehicle. He was legally in possession of both guns, a police spokesman said.

Arnall was being held on Monday morning in Natrona County Detention Center and was scheduled to make a preliminary court appearance Monday afternoon.