House Bill 47 to adopt a Hedonic Wage Index failed on introduction last week in Cheyenne, a bill that would have altered the way that school districts are compensated to pay staff.
Legislators weighed different options of implementing the Hedonic wage index. When the bill failed introduction, amendments were made within the education finance bill to leave it as an option. Sheridan County School District 1 Superintendent Marty Kobza explains.
If the 2011 Hedonic standard had been adopted District 1 would have been susceptible to a possible $300,000 cut from the base amount they receive from the state to hire teachers. Kobza says they're pleased with this result.
The initial bill failed to receive a two thirds vote on introduction in a tie, 30-30. Governor Matt Mead had stated that he would sign the bill if it reached his desk. There is no bill moving through the house or senate that would give external cost adjustment, meaning that districts aren't expected to be funded for pay raises either.
Every five years the state reevaluates the cost of education in the state. After a consultant from Texas A&M recommended a Hedonic option to the Joint Education Committee several school districts voiced their disagreement. Most outcry came from Teton and Sublette county school heads because they stood to lose $3.9 million and $1.1 million, respectively.
The formula attempted to measure labor costs with a list of factors in an index, meant to level the playing field among the cost of hiring teachers in districts throughout the state. The Texas A&M report said that the fact the state has a 5-year schedule that evaluates regional cost index suggests the cost of education varies widely within the state.
The Hedonic index used multiple new factors; distance from a town with a population of 15,000, distance from a town with 50,000, and distance from Yellowstone National Park, among several others. Kobza said these were the wrong factors. When discussing the issue of cost of hiring, he says there are disadvantages for a smaller district, and limiting funding based simply upon attractiveness to work and live in an area wouldn't have made sense.
One of those challenges in a smaller district lies in how Wyoming schools are funded for teachers. They are given money for a teacher based on a 16:1 student-teacher ratio. If a district wants to keep class size smaller and for example split a 20-student class to two classes of 10, based on state funding they have to allocate money from other places to fund an extra teacher if they can't fill a class with 16. Kobza noted that often the money comes from what the board allocates for salaries.
Where larger districts can balance several classes with at least 16 students to fund a teacher, smaller districts have a tougher time filling every classroom. Kobza added that if the bill was going to evaluate cost of hiring, it should also look at cost to retain teachers from year to year.