Recent pay raises for K-12 teachers in Wyoming are making it tough for the state’s community colleges to attract new faculty, officials say. A legislative committee has agreed to look into the issue of college funding.
Jim Rose, executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, addressed the Legislature’s Joint Education Interim Committee on Friday. Rose said he wasn’t disparaging recent pay raises for K-12 teachers. However, he said, “There is a concern, frankly, now that we have lost ground in the ability of the colleges to hire faculty.”
Rose said the salary for a beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree in Campbell County School District 1 is $9,000 higher than that paid to a faculty member with a master’s degree at Sheridan College.
“The consequences of that has been that at some of the colleges, we’re losing faculty,” he said.
An increase in funding by the Legislature earlier this year has allowed the state’s school districts to sharply increase teacher pay. According to information from 41 of Wyoming’s 48 districts this month, districts have boosted starting salaries by an average of $6,700.
Barb VanMatre, superintendent of Sweetwater County School District No. 2, said that for the first time her district is offering a starting salary above $40,000. She said the district was able to hire more than 20 new teachers.
The Joint Education Interim Committee decided Friday to look at the structure of community college funding to determine whether changes are needed.
Property owners in the seven counties where community colleges are located pay property taxes to support the colleges. Although the colleges draw students from outside their home counties, counties that don’t have colleges currently don’t charge their residents property taxes to support the schools.
Rep. Pete Illoway, R-Cheyenne, asked at the Friday meeting if it were possible to look at the funding structure of the colleges.
“There’s 16 counties out there that, quite frankly, are getting it for free,” he said. “It’s time for community colleges to grow and time for the entire state to pay for their upkeep.”
Committee co-chairman Rep. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette, said Campbell County does contribute money to the operation of the Sheridan College outreach campus in Gillette. He said the funding system is outdated and needs to be changed. Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, the other committee co-chairman, said there had been a bill proposed in the early 1990s that would have required every county in the state to impose property tax to pay for community colleges, but said it was defeated.
“There’s no question that the seven community colleges provide needed services to the entire state,” Coe said. He suggested Rose and others come up with suggestions for how to deal with the issue.
Rose said the Wyoming Community College Commission plans to make recommendations to the legislative committee at its meeting this September in Cody.
— Associated Press
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