CHEYENNE —The state Legislature is contemplating a permanent fix to the law that double-pays charter schools for routine maintenance and utility costs. The move would save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for a state education system that’s already strapped for cash.
The Legislature’s Select Committee on School Facilities met Wednesday in Casper and mulled over how lawmakers should correct the funding flaw in the statute. Committee members asked for two separate draft pieces of legislation to be written, both of which would prevent the double payments from occurring in the future.
Currently charter schools that lease their buildings are reimbursed up to a market rate for utilities and routine maintenance through their contract with the state based on a square footage rate. As of now, there are three charter schools in the state with leases for space, including two in Laramie County School District 1 and one in Albany County School District 1.
Calculations made by the State Construction Department for the average cost per square foot in prior years have included costs to pay for utilities and routine maintenance. That has created the duplication, as the state’s reimbursement to a school district for the cost of a charter school lease includes funding for the utilities and routine maintenance for the charter school building or facility.
The result is the PODER Academy and PODER Academy Secondary School in LCSD1 have received more than was needed for things like energy bills and snow removal.
During this year’s general session, the state Legislature amended the 2018 budget bill to eliminate the double payment in this biennium. But moving forward, a bill would need to be brought forward to amend the current payment system to keep it from happening in the future budget bills.
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During Wednesday’s meeting, Delbert McOmie, director of the State Construction Department, said PODER Academy’s annual lease is $498,488 with an operating and maintenance cost of $160,149. If the state were to correct the double payment issue, the school would only receive $338,339 annually.
The PODER Secondary School’s lease comes in at $416,573 with an operating and maintenance cost of $137,521. If the state were to permanently fix the double payment issue, the school would only receive $279,052 annually.
Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, asked if the costs for the three charter school leases were on par with other real estate leases in Laramie and Cheyenne.
“From the work that my staff has done, they’re comparable to what’s going on in Cheyenne,” McOmie said.
While the cost of real estate in Cheyenne is currently higher, McOmie said with the state government moving back into the Capitol building complex, those costs could go down in the future.
The options on the table to eliminate the double payments would be for the average cost per square foot reimbursement in the leases to be eliminated, or for the funding model for school districts to no longer take into account maintenance.