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Teacher Protests

Teachers rally outside the Capitol on April 27 in Phoenix on their second day of walkouts. Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out of their classes over low salaries keeping hundreds of thousands of students out of school. The head of Wyoming's education association says a work stoppage is unlikely in the Cowboy State.

Matt York

A teacher strike or work stoppage in Wyoming is unlikely, said the president of the state’s education association, even as educators in Colorado and elsewhere have taken to the streets and state capitals to protest their pay and working conditions.

“There’s no appetite for it, that I know of, in Wyoming,” Kathy Vetter said Tuesday. “I haven’t heard of anything, and I don’t expect to.”

Wyoming is less than two months removed from another legislative session that focused heavily on education spending and how much — not whether — to cut. The state’s schools are still in a significant funding hole, albeit a shallower one than they faced last year.

Lawmakers passed a bill in March to cut schools by more than $25 million over the next two years — with the bulk coming in the second year. That comes after two previous rounds of cuts, totaling as much as $77 million.

Still, Vetter said, her organization — which says it represents more than 6,300 teachers here — was relatively happy with the result from this session. While educators didn’t want cuts at all, the total could’ve been steeper.

Wyoming has kept its schools well funded in recent years, Vetter said. Unlike in some of the states where protests have spread, Wyoming teachers are well paid — 16th in the nation, with an average salary of $58,187 in 2017. In Colorado, the average salary was $51,808 last year, and in West Virginia, where the wave of teacher walkouts began earlier this year, it’s $45,555.

“If the Legislature will appropriately fund education into the future, we won’t have to worry about this because we have had education as a priority,” Vetter said. The other states — Colorado, Arizona, West Virginia — paid their teachers less and had other problems, like West Virginia’s rising health insurance costs.

There’s also been a philosophical reason why Wyoming teachers may not be headed for a walkout anytime soon. While the work stoppages in other states were led by teachers’ unions and associations, action here has historically been led by the school districts.

“We work very well with our administrators and our school boards,” she said. “We don’t have the animosity that we see in other states between” teachers and administrators.

In years past, districts have taken the lead in fighting for funding through lawsuits. The current funding system was established through a series of Wyoming Supreme Court decisions stretching back to the mid-1990s known as the Campbell Decisions. The name comes from the Campbell County School District, one of the plaintiffs in the case. Before that, the Washakie County School District’s state supreme court decision had a similarly seismic shift on Wyoming education.

While there doesn’t seem to be a strong prospect of a work stoppage here, Vetter said she was happy to see the positive responses in other states where teachers have walked out.

“They really had the public support behind them,” she said. “Teachers and school employees that were with them, the whole community joined in, businesses gave them money, they donated food, they donated money to cover different things. I’m not surprised (by their success) when they had such wide support for the community and parents.”

Asked whether the success of the actions elsewhere had provided a blueprint to Wyoming educators, Vetter said she hadn’t thought about it.

“But it certainly has worked everywhere they’ve done it,” she said. “It has had a positive effect. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen more and more throughout the United States. ... Our funding system (in Wyoming) is a lot better than most states. As long as we adequately fund the system that we have, we’re going to be OK.”

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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