Green River Star -

By David Martin
Editor 

District faces funding woes

 


School district officials fear a “double whammy” of cuts if the Wyoming Legislature follows through with cuts to education.

Speaking last night to the Sweetwater County School District No. 2 Board of Trustees, Superintendent Donna Little-Kaumo said the proposed cuts, when combined with anticipated drops in student enrollment, will result in larger funding decreases to the district.

The Joint Appropriations Committee recommended a 3 percent funding cut to the K-12 fund during the next biennium, which equates to approximately $45 million. The cut would reduce funding to K-12 schools by 1 percent in the first year and 2 percent in the second year. For Green River schools, that cut equates to $99,000 during the 2017 fiscal year and $798,000 during the 2018 fiscal year.

However, the district anticipates losing 1 percent of its student enrollment due to the state’s economic recession, which would reduce grant funding paid to the district for each student enrolled. That funding would be cut by about $400,000 if the 1 percent enrollment decrease estimate comes true. Some districts are already feeling a pinch when it comes to enrollment decreases as well. District Business Manager Pete Brandjord said the district in Kemmerer had 40 students move away, out of a group of 600. With fears that the current economic downturn could last several years, the possibility of a severe population decrease becomes more likely. Brandjord said the state lost 11 percent of its population during the last economic downturn. That amount, when viewed with the state’s current population of 580,000 would result in a loss of nearly 60,000 residents.

Outward migration is already happening and impacting the district. Little-Kaumo said a district employee recently gave her notice to resign after her husband lost his job locally and was forced to move outside the area.

In the event of a sustained economic downturn, Little-Kaumo said the district may need to introduce multi-age classrooms to keep their student to teacher ratio in compliance, while finding areas and positions that can be cut through attrition.

Little-Kaumo also said reduction in force measures would be the last thing she would consider when attempting to balance the district’s budget, but isn’t sure how long that would last during a downturn could last several years.

For now, the district has healthy reserves and has started measures to cut costs at buildings throughout the district. Brandjord said the district is also working with Sweetwater County’s legislative delegation to undo the $45 million cut suggested by the legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee.

Representative John Freeman, D-Green River, agrees that K-12 funding shouldn’t be cut and fears a potential lawsuit against the state if the cut is approved by the Legislature.

“The Wyoming Supreme Court says the Wyoming Legislature needs to fund education on a cost basis, not on what the state wants to pay,” Freeman said. “I think we need to restore the money or face a lawsuit.”

Freeman also recognizes the plight districts face if the cuts are realized and lose funding from both a reduction in students and funding reductions from the Legislature, saying students would be impacted.

As of 6 a.m. this morning, Freeman said he hasn’t seen a final budget to vote on, but expected it to be released sometime today.

 

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