Mills Considers Forming Its Own School District
The Mills Town Council, still reeling from the closures of its elementary schools, wants to know if the residents want to create a new school district.
If residents like the idea and a special board moves forward with a proposal, it probably would mark the first attempt to create a new school district in more than four decades, Wyoming Department of Education spokeswoman Kari Eakins said.
The department is dusting off rarely-applied laws to look at it, Eakins said. "It happens very rarely, creating a school district; we're having to do a lot of research right now."
Last month, Mills Mayor Seth Coleman notified residents about a survey about the idea and they and would have two months to respond.
Coleman recounted the town's unsuccessful lawsuit earlier this year against the Natrona County School District board of trustees to determine if it acted legally when it voted to close and abandon the Mountain View and Mills elementary schools.
The Town of Mills now is the only municipality in Natrona County without its own school, despite being the second-largest municipality in the county; it's growing; and is poised to become a city after the 2020 U.S. Census, Coleman wrote. "Despite this increase, the Town has singularly experienced a complete deprivation of elementary schools within or near the Town in the last few years."
The Mills Town Council identified advantages in creating a smaller, unified school district, he wrote. "Those benefits would include: more opportunity for residents to voice their concerns; smaller class sizes; and closer proximity to schools."
Coleman cited the law about creating a new unified school district. The law defines a "unified school district" as one that has a kindergarten or first grade through 12th grade program under the control of one board of trustees and administered by one superintendent.
The law says a new school district would use money from the district from which it is separating until it receives its proper apportionment of funds through the state.
That's the Natrona County School District, which like other districts in the state has struggled with declining enrollments and declining funding.
Mills residents would not pay additional property taxes to support the new district, Coleman added.
State school funding follows the students, and the state funds districts for about $16,000 per student, he wrote in response to questions about funding.
Mills has more than 1,000 K-12 students, which means the state spends $16 million a year for educating the town's children, Coleman wrote.
The Mills government would not be directly involved with a new district, but it wants to gauge the community's interest, he wrote. "The decisions on how to educate our children, what programs to offer and all decisions about education in our town would be made much closer to home."
If residents are interested, town officials will identify what to do next, Coleman wrote.
Eakins said that will require a lot.
To her knowledge, Eakins said no new school districts have been created after the consolidation in the 1970s of about 90 districts to 48 districts in the 23 counties.
The process would not be easy, according to the law.
First, a "district boundary board" must be created with the county assessor, the board of county commissioners and the county treasurer.
It is unclear if the Natrona County School District also would need to be in the process, Eakins said.
Because the new school district would be formed within the Natrona County School District, at least 100 voters would need to petition the district boundary board -- after holding a hearing on the petition -- which then may submit a proposal to the State Board of Education.
If the district boundary board approves the petition, the proposal would include:
- The proposed boundaries.
- The proposed name of the district.
- Trustee residency requirements.
- Recommendation of school locations.
- Use of existing buildings.
- Employment of existing personnel.
- Transportation requirements.
- The reasons for the proposal.
- A summary of anticipated improvement in education.
The submission of the proposal to the state would start a series of reviews, a decision whether to accept or reject it, the notification of the local district boundary board, an appeals process if the proposal is rejected, the appointment of new trustees in the district, the funding mechanism and other matters.
Eakins said the Department of Education will not calculate the cost of the creation and operation of a new district.
If Mills residents are successful in creating a new school district, Eakins said students in Mills would be able to attend schools in the Natrona County School District and vice versa.