Dec 28, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterRepresentatives from Riverton schools had the chance to spend some time with state legislators recently in preparation for Wyoming's coming legislative session in January.
The conversations began on Thursday during the annual Meet your Legislators event at the Riverton Chamber of Commerce. Fremont County School District 25 superintendent Terry Snyder scheduled some time to meet with the Fremont County legislators including State Reps. Rita Campbell, R-Shoshoni; Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander; Dave Miller, R-Riverton; and State Sens. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, and Cale Case, R-Lander.
"I thought I'd take advantage of this chance to come talk with you and meet you," said Snyder, who is serving his second year as district superintendent.
He began by talking to the legislators about the need for more elementary teaching space in Riverton. In an effort to comply with the state's 16:1 student-teacher ratio mandate, Snyder said Rendezvous Elementary School has been converted to a building for third- through fifth-graders, a move that required creativity when organizing classrooms.
Snyder said he is supportive of the new ratio requirement, but he said the district needs two more elementary buildings in order to reach that goal.
"We're out of space," Snyder said.
The School Facilities Commission has been working to prioritize the needs of six districts that have been identified this year as having capacity problems. The process has been moving forward relatively quickly, but Bebout asked Snyder how Riverton schools would fare if legislators chose to slow progress in order to realize a bigger economic benefit in the state.
Case said more local contractors could contribute to school construction if the buildings didn't all go up at one time.
"We rammed this down communities' throats with no time to get their ducks in order," Case said. "(It'd be great) to have the people who build the schools send their kids to the schools."
Miller mentioned that the state has a habit of spending extra money in one biennium instead of making it last through several years.
Snyder would rather use local contractors than bring in out-of-state companies, but he said Riverton's needs must be addressed as quickly as possible.
"To slow it down for us is what we hope not to happen," Snyder said.
He asked how legislators would prioritize construction projects if they had to pick and choose, adding that he would be flexible in order to accommodate the state.
"If we need two schools, if we can bid one in a short time, we can probably wait for a second one," he said. "We can be part of a compromise, a solution."
Bebout said it would be difficult to alter the process now that it is has been put into action.
"If we slow it down, how do we decide which school gets delayed?" he said. "I don't think we can go back and change that now."
The group also talked about the Wyoming Accountability in Education Act, a law that was passed this year in an effort to improve Wyoming's public school system. Bebout approved of a letter from the The NorthWest Superintendent's Association that was endorsed by FCSD25 requesting that the entities responsible for implementing the WAEA take their time with the important legislation.
"Terry's right," Bebout said. "The education committee made plans to delay that (and) try to give it a chance to work a bit better."
Snyder specifically mentioned the last phase of the WAEA which focuses on teacher accountability for core instructors.
"That's important you do it right," he said. "If we don't do it right it (could) impact the profession long-term. ... Teachers want to be accountable; they want kids to learn."
He asked the legislators to think about the purpose of state assessments, which can be designed to compare Wyoming to students to one another, or to students throughout the United States.
Snyder is in favor of the latter style of test, and he recommended Wyoming become involved with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium that is developing a national assessment.
"I'm not afraid to compare Wyoming kids with anyone else," Snyder said. "I don't think we run a risk. In fact, I think it'd be a good comparison."
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