By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — State lawmakers gave initial support to a supplemental school construction bill that includes additional funding for maintenance, school security and money for a Cheyenne charter school's housing costs.
The Joint Appropriations Committee sponsored a bill Friday that included an additional $1 million in school maintenance money and almost $5 million for school security projects. The members also added more than $400,000 to the bill to help pay for leasing costs associated with the PODER Academy Secondary School (PASS) in Cheyenne.
The close to $5 million in additional security spending gets the total amount available for school districts to use back up to $9 million. The bill supported by the JAC also allows school districts to identify specific projects at their schools for upgrades, subject to approval by the school facilities commission.
A study of security needs of K-12 schools in Wyoming showed there was more than $80 million in needed security upgrades, said Del McOmie, director of the State Construction Department.
Every school's need was unique, with newer schools identifying higher-tech upgrades like intercoms and remote locks, and older schools needing to have locks actually put into place on doors throughout buildings.
"It's an extremely complicated issue. That's why we've been working with the districts to figure out what works for a district, and let them implement that on what they see as the biggest bang for the buck at this time," McOmie said. "A newer school has the hardware and the IT capacity where from the administration office, they can lock (all the doors). (In) an older building, that's simply not there, and while it might cost you $10,000 or $12,000 to implement that in a new school, it might be $100,000 to put that same system in an older school."
McOmie said there are varying levels of security in schools across the state. Some districts have been very proactive with other funds, especially in the newer schools, in identifying and paying for upgrades. Other districts, especially those with declining enrollment that are faced with less of the security funding and higher expenses at older schools, are having to play catch up.
Lawmakers included the PASS charter school in the supplemental budget to meet an upcoming obligation by the state to start paying the lease. State statute outlines that a charter school that has operated for three years, is approved for continuing operations by a school district and is not in and cannot move to a district-owned building will have their lease costs reimbursed by the state.
PASS is up for renewal next year by Laramie County School District 1. Lawmakers could have decided to wait until the next budget session and reimburse PASS then, but the JAC decided to pre-emptively set up lease payments now.