District mulls WEA lawsuit

Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

Weston County School District No. 1 will not, at this time, join the Wyoming Education Association’s lawsuit claiming that the State Legislature has failed to adequately fund K-12 education, according to a recent conversation during the Sept. 7 board of trustee meeting. 

The board decided to take some time to allow for the lawsuit to move forward, and to visit with the district’s lawyer before a decision is made on whether to join or not. 

The lawsuit was filed on Aug. 18 in the First Judicial District Court of Laramie County, according to court documents. The case argues that the Legislature failed to meet its constitutional duty to adequately fund education. 

The association, which is affiliated with the National Education Association, claims that additional funding should have been provided to schools because costs have increased and inflation has climbed in recent years. The organization claims a membership of about 6,000 teachers in the state. 

“The failure to provide needed inflationary cost adjustments has made the funding model unconstitutional,” the lawsuit states. 

Required to adjust the funding model every five years, the association says, the Legislature should have provided external cost adjustments, created new revenue sources or adjusted funding during that process. Without doing so, the case claims that the Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional duty for funding education. 

“The WEA has exhausted possibilities for correcting the funding deficit outside of litigation,” WEA legal counsel Patrick Hacker said in a press release. “The point of the litigation is to get the Legislature to do its Constitutional duty. The goal is to enforce the Constitution to secure proper funding for safe, high-quality schools everywhere in Wyoming and to stop the deterioration of public education due to legislative failures.”

During the board discussion on Sept. 7, the consensus of the local school board was to sit back and watch the progression of the lawsuit before a decision is made whether to join or not. 

“The Legislature is going to look at all the districts and blame them for what happened, even if they don’t join. Whether it is true or not,” trustee John Riesland said. “Personally, I think we need to step back and not be involved.  … The lawsuit will probably go on for three to four years before it is resolved. The winners are going to be the lawyers.”

Chairwoman Tina Chick agreed with Riesland, stating that the district does not need to be in a hurry to join the lawsuit. 

“This is only the opening. We’ve got lots of time, I believe, to decide,” she said, noting that waiting will allow the district to see how the lawsuit is being presented. 

“I am in favor of asking the attorneys to look at what is filed and see how much we agree with,” Chick said. “We can get a cost number of what we may have to pay to participate.”

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