Laramie County School District 1 in Cheyenne has taken legal action against the state department that oversees school construction, saying it hasn’t met its requirements to produce a list of schools with capacity problems so the Legislature can consider funding new schools.
The district’s contested case petition -- or formal hearing -- claims the Wyoming School Facilities Department and the School Facilities Commission, which oversees the department, aren't complying with a statute to identify and prioritize construction needs based on schools’ conditions and capacities.
School Facilities Department officials say they’re in the process of meeting requirements the Legislature adopted two years ago to measure capacity.
“Quite frankly, there’s no provision in the law that says, 'Well, just don’t produce a list if you can’t get around to getting it done,'” Laramie County School District 1 Superintendent Mark Stock said. “Meanwhile, schools that are growing rapidly and that have growing enrollment, it just creates delays in getting any facilities taken care of.”
He added that legislators need a list that ranks schools and provides dollar amounts in order to do their jobs.
The district last year requested an informal review. In late September, LCSD1 officials filed for a formal review, the next level of administrative hearing in the legal process.
School Facilities Department Director Ian Catellier said the department had all school spaces across the state measured last summer to determine capacity according to the new state standards.
The department also is working on an independent study of districts with high-capacity needs to understand what school spaces exist, how they can be used and what school districts need to meet their demands.
He said department officials and consultants likely will finish the project by the end of February and begin to talk about options with districts.
LCSD1 is one of the districts in the study. Stock said district officials plan to ask the department for 13 modular structures to give them more classroom space.
The Natrona County School District also is a part of the study. Dennis Bay, NCSD’s executive director for business services, said more than half of the elementary schools in the district are below state standards for capacity.
Another district in the study is Fremont County School District 25 in Riverton. The district is significantly over capacity, Superintendent Terry Snyder said.
Last year, district officials reduced classroom sizes from 25 students per teacher in kindergarten through third grade to about 19.5 students for each teacher by moving third-grade classes into an upper-grade elementary school. The building had formerly been a secondary school, and the district made way for the third-graders by remodeling locker rooms, industrial tech labs and other spaces.
“We’re just plain out of room,” Snyder said. “We’ve used every square foot that we have.”
He added that capacity is an important issue for legislators and school construction officials to consider, and that he understands the department has a lot of work to perform.
“They have a lot of needs from school districts, and we’re just one of them,” Snyder said. “We want to be cooperative with everybody’s needs but also lobby for our needs.”