You’ve probably heard that old expression that two wrongs don’t make a right. Well, in some cases two rights mean things go wrong.
That’s the case with a now-dead legislative bill that would have allowed school districts to enter into leases without the approval of the state’s School Facilities Department.
The bill is an oddity in which both sides may be right to a certain degree, but the legislative fix was all wrong.
Supporters of the bill, which included the Natrona County School District, argued that if the law had passed, it would have allowed it to lease essential items like buses and copiers. It would have given districts the option of leasing equipment without the expense of owning it. Districts like Natrona County now say that without the legislation, it will be stuck not being able to negotiate for equipment.
Opponents of the measure argued that it would have done a lot more than just allow for the districts to buy a couple of souped-up Xeroxes. It would have allowed districts to negotiate leases for facilities that don’t need the approval of the state’s School Facilities Department.
That may sound like a procedural hiccup, but there’s a lot more on the line.
Critics of the bill are correct: It would have provided an “end run” around the state’s watchdog and undermines the integrity of the state’s system.
The idea behind the School Facilities Department is simple: It allocates money and approves plans to build facilities throughout the state. This is important because it ensures that communities in energy-rich places don’t have an inherent unequal advantage when it comes to facilities. After all, if individual districts were left to funding on their own, some districts would have lavish facilities with money to spare, and others would scrimp by. This would mean that education in the state of Wyoming would hardly be equal.
Instead, the often maligned and intensely bureaucratic School Facilities Department looks to ensure that buildings and schools throughout the state afford roughly the same opportunities.
In many cases, if school districts want to construct more elaborate buildings, they must find the extra funding. Moreover, the department tries to ensure that any enhancements — the technical name for improvements beyond those sanctioned by the SFD — will not create an unfair educational opportunity for students throughout the rest of the state.
As the Natrona County School District considers many renovations and building plans, especially at all of its high school campuses, it’s easy to see this legislation as self-serving and thinly veiled. In truth, it was probably an end run around the School Facilities Department, which has been seen — fairly or not — as the stumbling block to holding up overdue construction. This bill would have helped clear the way for the district to push forward certain pet projects, including additional athletics space, without pesky oversight.
Yet, legislation like that would leave an open door so wide in state law so as to almost make the School Facilities Department irrelevant.
Still Natrona County and other districts may be in a tough position. Much district business is just that — business. That is, the school district needs to do mundane things like lease copiers and negotiate bus contracts. The district is probably doing the prudent thing by leasing these items and needs the flexibility to decide which copiers or buses are right for it. Any law that would seem to get in the way of completing such a necessary task seems heavy-handed.
In other words, there has to be some middle ground.
There has to be a way to allow districts to lease equipment, especially in certain categories like office equipment and buses, without loosening the requirements enough to let districts start leasing buildings. Surely, the state has better things to do than lord over districts that need a new bus.
At the same time, we applaud the Senate for calling this legislation what it really was — an attempt to get around the state. While we understand the frustration that comes with government bureaucracy, expedience can’t give way to inequality in schools.