Wyoming News Briefs Jan. 17, 2020


January 16, 2020

Plan to use Medicaid for special education clears committee

CHEYENNE (WNE) — State lawmakers on the Joint Appropriations Committee approved a bill Thursday morning authorizing the state to begin setting up a billing system through which Medicaid funds could be used for K-12 special education services.

Wyoming is currently the only state in the U.S. that doesn’t bill Medicaid for its special education services. Instead, the state has historically covered 100% of the costs for special education services like speech therapy.

While all 48 school districts in Wyoming could eventually participate in the billing system, the bill that passed by a 10-2 committee vote was designed to allow just one or a few districts to initially join, with the option for others to join when they see fit.

If the bill is passed by the full Legislature, projections show Wyoming would gain roughly $2 million annually in Medicaid funding during the first biennium of implementation, with that amount growing to $2.7 million by the third year – funds that Nicholas said could make a serious impact in the long run.

“$2 million doesn’t seem like a lot, but that’s an annual number, and that’s supposed to increase over time as we move forward, so that number could be substantial,” said committee Chairman Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne. “We’re talking about tens of millions over the course of biennia, and every million is a million gained.”

Meanwhile, the bill would require $550,000 from the School Foundation Account to get a billing system set up in the state Department of Education.


Sheriff looks to bunk beds to ease jail overcrowding

RIVERTON (WNE) — The Fremont County Sheriff's Office is in talks with the county's maintenance supervisor about adding top bunks to single beds in the Fremont County Detention Center to combat jail overcrowding.

"We're looking at getting a local welder to fabricate, to acceptable standards, beds to go on top of single beds," said Fremont County Sheriff Ryan Lee at a Jan. 14 meeting of the Fremont County Commission. He said Wyoming Honor Farm warden Michael Harlow is interested in mobilizing honor farm inmates to paint and help prepare the beds.

Compounding beds is the first long-term solution to emerge in what the sheriff has identified as the dire problem of jail crowding in the Lander facility, which holds 160 inmates ideally but has peaked above 200 multiple times since the dawn of 2020.

To develop more solutions, Lee and staff are compiling statistical data of the past 15 years, to identify causes behind the large influx of inmates in Fremont County.

"Generally this is our slow time of year, and we're way over, as of this morning," said Lee.

Fremont County Commission Chairman Travis Becker was concerned with the ratio of pre-adjudicated inmates versus sentenced inmates in the jail: 30 inmates are fulfilling post-conviction sentences; 179 of the Jan. 14 total were waiting to be sentenced or waiting for future court dates.


Douglas school lunch debt set at $45,000

DOUGLAS (WNE) — The Douglas School District is running out of ideas on how to tackle the ballooning amount of unpaid school lunch debt on the books.

“Three years ago, the unpaid balance was $9,000 school-wide,” school Nutritional Services Director Monty Gilbreath said. “The debt has accrued over the years and, as of January 2020, the unpaid balance is $45,000.”

According to Gilbreath and Superintendent Paige Fenton-Hughes, the school board has been struggling with getting the unpaid balance to a zero for the past two years, but instead the amount has grown.

The school trustees have been scratching their heads, trying to come up with ideas on how to fix the issue.

The price for a student’s school lunch at the primary, intermediate and upper elementary schools is $3.15, while the price at the middle and high school is $3.45.

The prices for the reduced lunch program is $.40 which is 86% lower than the standard price per student.

“We have tried everything,” Fenton-Hughes said. “If a student’s balance is negative, parents receive an automated courtesy call. We send out text messages and emails and will send a form home with the student each week.”

Principals at all Douglas schools have been calling the parents direct and certified letters are sent out to parents who have balances of $75 or higher.

The unpaid lunch debt is covered every year by the general fund, which means that those funds aren’t available for other programs like sports, music, theater or speech and debate, according to Fenton-Hughes.


Accused arsonist to be tried as adult

GILLETTE (WNE) — The case of a 17-year-old boy accused of setting fire to a bathroom at Thunder Basin High School won’t be sent to juvenile court.

Derek Paul will continue to face arson charges in District Court after a new court-appointed attorney asked that a request to move it to juvenile court not be considered.

Paul’s previous attorney had asked that a transfer hearing be set, at which attorneys could argue whether Paul should be treated as a juvenile. Cases in juvenile court are handled differently than in District Court, including that the cases remain confidential.

But Brandon T. Booth, chief trial counsel for the Wyoming State Public Defenders Office, requested Tuesday that the court vacate the transfer hearing request.

Among the reasons cited is that Paul will turn 18 in May which, along with other factors, would weigh against his transfer to the juvenile system, he said.

District Judge Thomas W. Rumpke has vacated the hearing, which had been scheduled for next week.

Paul will be in court next Feb. 11 for a pre-trial conference.

He is accused of starting a fire in the handicap stall of a second-floor bathroom at TBHS on the afternoon of Sept. 30.

School staff said Paul had thrown a temper tantrum earlier that day when he was sent to lunch detention for his failing grades, Gillette Police Detective Julianne Witham said during his preliminary hearing.

The damage was contained to the bathroom, which sustained heavy smoke damage.


State superintendent gives questions to students

PINEDALE (WNE) — Wyoming’s Superintendent of Public Instruction visited Sublette County Friday, Jan. 10, intent on listening to students.

“Initially Superintendent Jay Harnack was going to have students ask me questions,” Balow said. “I said I want to ask the class questions. Too often we look at grownups as the stakeholders and we don’t ask students.”

She submitted four or five questions in advance that she wanted the students prepared to answer addressing school safety, civics, relevance of education to future plans and the need for accountability and assessment.

“I wanted a very open dialogue,” Balow said. “My hope was that this was a beta test for possible ongoing sessions at other schools throughout the state.”

Initially, students were quiet with lots of platitudes but began to open up, she said.

“The value of students’ opinions is most profound,” Balow said.

She said students quickly pointed out Pinedale’s strengths including the strong relationships students build with teachers and the many opportunities they have to be active and involved.

She said students also recognize challenges with technology.

“They recognized the need for technology but also saw the drawbacks of not being able to get away from it at home,” she said.

Students identified “adulting skills” they feel are missing in the education program including financial literacy, hands-on applications such as simple auto repairs and cooking or home economics.


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