Sheridan school officials oppose bill removing local control

SHERIDAN — Sheridan County School District 2 administrators strongly oppose proposed legislation that would move monitoring kindergarten through third-grade curriculum from local control to a statewide level, and those administrators expressed such opposition with local legislators Monday.

During its annual legislative roundtable with all Sheridan County representation in attendance — except for Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan — Monday, Superintendent Scott Stults and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Assessment Mitch Craft expressed their desire to keep kindergarten through third-grade literacy curriculum under local control.

“Proposed legislation would remove local control, giving the [Wyoming Department of Education] power to dictate intervention programs and assessment in the area of K-3 literacy,” a presentation slide said. “Even consistently high performing districts like SCSD2 would be forced to align with (what) WDE dictates.”

A specific piece of legislation proposed during the Joint Education Interim Committee — K-3 reading assessment and intervention program — gives power to the state superintendent to promulgate rules “as necessary to assist each school district to administer its reading assessment and intervention program,” according to the draft bill. It also allows mechanisms for the state superintendent to directly support schools and school districts in meeting the goals of improvement plans developed including, but not limited to, professional development in evidence-based literacy instruction and intervention and professional development in identifying the signs of dyslexia and other reading difficulties. 

In conclusion, the state education department will collect data from grades kindergarten through second grade to prove reading proficiency.

“We ask all of our local legislators to oppose any legislation, please, that would remove local control from Wyoming’s high-performing districts, specific to a curriculum assessment intervention for K-3 literacy,” Craft said.

Local control remained a main focus of conversation, including discussions about block grant funding, which currently allows local districts control over block grant funding allocations. Stults said Sheridan is the school district receiving the least amount of funding dollars per student in the state but continues as one of the highest performing districts.

“We make it work, and we make it work because we know what works, and we’re focused on the right work,” Stults said. “With that being said, we really feel like local control works for us and the block grant absolutely does fund what we need to fund, and we find other creative ways if it doesn’t through our local philanthropists and our other support groups in Sheridan County.”

Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, asked, without expecting an immediate answer, how the Legislature could bring other school districts to SCSD2’s level of fiscal responsibility. Stults responded it’s all about doing the right work.

Funding remained a grave concern for school districts when last year’s state fiscal report, the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, estimated around a $331 million loss in revenues, heavily impacting state funding for school districts. With this year’s report, an improvement of $90 million in mineral increases and non-mineral assessed valuations brings the deficit to $243 million, with projected decreases in that deficit in years to come, according to Kinner.

“Certainly several hundreds of millions of dollars improvement from what we had projected,” Kinner said. “Now here’s the word of caution: Keep in mind that this is predicated on minerals. What will those prices do going forward? We don’t know that, but our projections have increased.”