NEWS BRIEFS for Friday, Dec. 6, 2019




Public Service Commission approves expansion of Corriedale wind project

CHEYENNE (WNE) – The Wyoming Public Service Commission Thursday approved an expansion of the planned Corriedale Wind Energy Project to include an additional five wind turbines.

The application for the wind farm, submitted by Black Hills Power and its subsidiary, Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power Company (aka Black Hills Energy), was initially approved in July. With the commission's approval Thursday, the project will expand from 16 to 21 wind turbines. 

The wind farm is expected to open off the Otto Road exit of Interstate 80 west of Cheyenne next October. With the expansion, the project is estimated to cost $78.6 million.

The wind farm initially had a capacity of 40 megawatts per hour, split evenly between the two entities. The proposed expansion would add 12.5 megawatts per hour to the project’s capacity, with that additional energy going only to Black Hills Power.

Through the project’s Renewable Ready Service Tariff, commercial, industrial and governmental customers who use more than 300,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year will be eligible to access energy generated by the wind farm. Participants would be able to enter into contracts with the company to access renewable energy for periods of five to 25 years.

During the meeting, Kyle White, Black Hills Power vice president of regulatory strategy, said the expansion was deemed necessary after holding a subscription period to gauge customers' interest.

"Black Hills Power had pretty significant interest during the 30-day window that customers had an opportunity to make a formal application to participate in the program," White said. 

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$39,586 allegedly stolen by former Treasurer's Office worker

GILLETTE (WNE) — A former Campbell County Treasurer’s Office employee is accused of altering documents to steal $39,586 in vehicle taxes.

Marcella R. Hall, 34, has been charged with felony theft. She made her initial appearance in Circuit Court on Wednesday, and a preliminary hearing has been set for 4 p.m. Dec. 17.

Campbell County Treasurer Rachael Knust began investigating the case in early September after a customer had questions about a transaction. When employees tried to find the transaction, they found the date was incorrect. As they investigated, they found more anomalies, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in the case.

Treasurer’s Office records showed that between December 2018 and September 2019, Hall had altered 39 receipts from people who had paid their vehicle taxes. She would change the dates on the receipts to a weekend date because the those were not included in weekly accounting reports, according to the affidavit.

Cash taken by Hall was not accounted for in any audits, documents say.

Knust told police that the accounting practice the office used then was to run an audit at the end of each month that showed all days — including weekends. Because the transaction dates were moved first to a weekend, and then to the following month, “the transactions, and the money taken by Hall, were not seen in the audits,” according to the affidavit.

Hall told police she started taking money because she had a bill she couldn’t pay. She said she paid back the first one or two thefts, but didn’t pay back any after that.

Hall’s bond was set at $3,000 cash or surety.

Felony theft carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

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JEC reviews school transportation rules

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Proper practices for inter-district student transportation in Wyoming are ambiguous after the Wyoming Department of Education removed a portion of its rules that prohibited school districts from transporting students who live in other districts without the permission of the resident district.

WYDOE Chief of Staff Dicky Shanor explained to the JEC the Wyoming Department of Education had been asked to review its transportation-related rules for efficiencies over the past two and a half years by the Government Efficiency Committee, Joint Appropriations Committee and Joint Education Committee.

In reviewing the WYDOE rules, Shanor said the department removes rules that are in direct conflict with legislation that has changed or are redundant when considered with the laws.

The removed section of chapter 20 of WYDOE’s rules stated, “No district shall send a school bus into another school district for the purposes of loading or discharging students of the other district without the consent of the school boards concerned.”

“That only speaks to if a bus goes into another district and transports kids that are enrolled in that district,” Shanor said. “But this rule does not speak to A coming to grab a kid out of B if he’s enrolled in A.”

Shanor argued the rules as they stood did not solve the problem, and transportation rules are not the appropriate vehicle to govern enrollment practices.

But JEC Chair Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, contends removing the rules exacerbated the issue.

“It was a problem that was previously already being encountered in some districts,” Northrup said. “It’s happening now — already — and they were trying to get clarification on it and to get it stopped, and instead the rules are basically saying, ‘eh, have a free-for-all.’”

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Wyoming ranks 7th in per-student education spending

JACKSON (WNE) — Wyoming’s population might be small, but its education spending is mighty.

A report compiled by the website HeyTutor.com, which coordinates tutoring services, found that Wyoming ranks seventh in per-student spending in the United States. Based on U.S. Census Bureau data from fiscal year 2017, the state spent $16,537 for each student, for a total of $1.56 billion.

Wyoming’s average teacher salary in 2017 was $58,650, which is $300 below the national average, but most every other metric besides overall spending was above the mean.

HeyTutor also ranked Wyoming’s students as above average based on results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, but it cautioned against a strict correlation between education spending and student performance.

“While teacher salaries are directly affected by school funding, the correlation between student performance and education funding is more complex,” the report says. “Looking at data from fiscal year 2017, states that spend more per student aren’t more likely to have better outcomes.”

On its face, the lack of correlation between spending and performance might seem to encourage less education funding. However, the report cites a Johns Hopkins University School of Education paper that found the relationship to be more nuanced.

As a blanket rule, scores on the national exam don’t rise as a function of increased spending. But Johns Hopkins found that higher education investment can help lower-income and lower-achieving students better their performances, and it can increase the number of days students spend at school.

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