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The Wyoming Charter School Authorizing Board begins its work

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Stuart Kinlough
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The Wyoming Charter School Authorizing Board (WCSAB) convened its first public meeting on Aug. 3 at the state Capitol to undergo training on the history of charter schools in Wyoming, board etiquette, and establishing its operating procedures.

The board was created by Senate File 174 during this year’s legislative session. The board is made up of individuals from across the state with a variety of backgrounds to ensure a wide breadth of input is taken into account as they work to enhance the availability of high-quality charter schools in Wyoming. Charter schools receive public funding and are still e required to state performance standards but are nonprofits that are structured differently than traditional public schools are. They often have fewer regulations with governing boards that are separate from district school boards and may choose their own curriculums. The bill allocated funding for one full-time position and a budget of approximately $280,000.

During its first meeting the board approved the transfer of Wyoming Classical Academy in Mills and Prairie View Community School in Chugwater from the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) to the WCSAB. Laws made charter schools difficult to operate, which changed when a bill was passed in 2021 that eased restrictions on them. It allowed for the State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) to grant charters, authority which was passed to the WCSAB at the meeting.

A year deferment was granted to Cheyenne Classical Academy due to issues administrators had in securing a facility.

“We had secured the help of a wonderful real estate developer, to look at what was available,” said Nathan Winters, chairman of the school’s board. “We were able to look into a facility on Ridge Road, but as we looked further, with the assessment, we weren't able to get into that until August the 19th of this year, with of course school needing to start the following week.”

The school was going to open for the 2023-24 school year with around 120 students. If the board hadn’t granted it a deferment, it would have lost its charter. Classes are set to begin in the fall of 2024. However, according to SF174, a new charter school could have been approved in its place if it was lost. Only one additional charter school may be approved by an entity that’s not a school district before July 1, 2028.

“Opening a school is so important to make that first good impression,” said board member Joseph Feiler. “It's like going to a restaurant open and for the first time here, if you have a good meal, good service, good staff, it's clean, people will be back and people will be the word will be out especially in small towns like Wyoming and knocking on the door to get in.”

The funding model for the three charter schools was also discussed, which included average daily membership (ADM) figures.

“The way that the model will calculate that funding is based on the specific inputs that are for the charter school, so it would vary by district. And it would be dependent on a lot of different factors,” said Trent Carroll, Chief Operations Officer for the Wyoming Department of Education. “The school essentially is funded just like any other school…with the exception that for the first three years, we basically use a different method rather than the typical average daily membership [ADM] input that drives most of the funding.”

This includes utilizing an enrollment type method which counts students over a specific period, not on a daily basis as opposed to ADM, which is an average daily count of students throughout all or most of the year.

It’s following almost more of an enrollment type of a method rather than an average daily membership, so that is one difference," he said. "But otherwise, the way that the funding is calculated in the model is very similar to any other school.”

The board is made up of Cindy DeLancey and John Masters of Cheyenne, Joseph Feiler of Casper, Mitchell Schwab of Afton, Janine Bay Teske of Jackson, Doug Chamberlain of LaGrange, Fred Von Ahrens, Jr. of Green River, and Dr. Alan Buss of Laramie.

Masters was elected board chair and with Schwab in the vice chair position. The board also elected not to have a secretary but kept the possibility of having one in the future and adopted Robert’s Rules of Order to conduct meetings. Mackenzie Williams with the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office was introduced as the board’s attorney.

The WCSAB members were nominated by the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the governor with the exceptions of Fred Von Ahrens, Jr., who was selected by the Wyoming Department of Education and Alan Buss, chosen by the University of Wyoming’s College of Education.

Corrected: August 5, 2023 at 10:21 PM MDT
This story has been corrected to indicate that Wyoming Classical Academy in Mills, not Casper Classical Academy, is the charter school in the Casper area that was transferred to control of the WCSAB. Casper Classical Academy is a public school within Natrona County School District #1.
Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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