As the dust settles from the 2017 legislative session, school districts across Wyoming are starting to get a clearer picture of what budget cuts will look like for them.
“Every district is going to feel this differently,” said Kevin Mitchell, superintendent of Park County School District No. 1.
Mitchell told school board members Tuesday that the projected $257,000 cut for the 2017-18 school year amounts to about 1 percent of the budget.
“A reduction of this amount will not change the daily work of the district,” Mitchell wrote in an all-staff email to district employees Wednesday.
The final amount of Powell’s reduction in state funding may change slightly in the next couple of months as the Wyoming Department of Education processes changes to the funding model, he said.
“I do not anticipate any lost employee positions,” Mitchell wrote in the email.
The superintendent said he will work with the district’s administrative team to develop a plan to address the loss of revenue. Mitchell said he will then make recommendations to the Park County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees going into the budget planning process for 2017-18 school year; the budget year begins July 1, which will be the first official day for new Superintendent Jay Curtis.
Mitchell told employees he intends to “safely secure our core education programs we provide during the school day of the 175-day school year.”
With Wyoming facing a K-12 funding shortfall that could reach $400 million a year, the education funding crisis cast a shadow over the eight-week legislative session. Ultimately, lawmakers reached a compromise in the final hours of the session March 3, agreeing to cut $34.5 million from schools; the Wyoming Senate rejected proposals that would have increased taxes to raise new money for education if certain conditions were met.
On average, Wyoming spends roughly $15,700 per student each school year.
For school districts with declining enrollment — including Cody, Riverton, Gillette and others — the recent cuts hit especially hard. Wyoming bases K-12 education funding on a complex model that takes into account numerous factors, including enrollment over a three-year rolling average.
“The ones that are cutting a lot of staff, mainly teachers, it’s generally due to declining enrollment over a few years,” Mitchell said.
In Powell schools, enrollment has held steady, so the local district hasn’t been hit with significant cuts in recent years.
By contrast, the Riverton school district lost 100 students this year, and Mitchell said he heard that district may eliminate 21 staff positions.
Park County School District No. 6 in Cody also has dealt with declining enrollment in recent years. The recent cuts, combined with cuts from last year, will total roughly $1-$1.3 million, or 3.9 percent, Superintendent Ray Schulte told the Cody Enterprise last week. The district’s still waiting on the exact figure, he said.
Legislators also froze transportation funding for the 2018-19 school year. Future transportation funding will be based on a three-year average. While the cuts won’t affect Powell next year, it “will be a significant drop for the 2018-19 school year,” Mitchell said.
The state isn’t funding new bus purchases, unless it’s an emergency.
“That shouldn’t affect us for a year, maybe two,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been buying buses frequently in the last several years.”
Though lawmakers talked about trimming from special education, Mitchell said that funding was spared from cuts this year.
A special committee made up of 10 legislators will look at recalibrating education funding this summer and fall. The co-chairs of the Joint Education Committee, Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, and Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, will serve on the special committee.
“This recalibration coming up soon is going to open the door to every component of the model to be re-examined,” Mitchell said.
He told school board members it will be important to keep an eye on that process, as lot could change in the months leading up to the Legislature’s 2018 budget session next January.
“This will be a critical time for us. If deep cuts to education funding will be made, it will happen during this recalibration,” Mitchell told staff Wednesday. “District leadership will be diligently involved in this recalibration effort.”