ROCK SPRINGS – Sweetwater County School District No. 1 took a step forward in a rocky financial river as they approved the preliminary budget on Monday. Although the budget is currently balanced, there is a lot of work to go before final approval.
While the preliminary budget is balanced, it is important to remember these are the best estimates at this time. District Finance Director Scott Duncan explained they will have more solid numbers in June. That is when the district gets Sweetwater County Treasurer money and they have a better idea of how much funding they will receive based on student enrollment numbers.
Current enrollment numbers continue to show an increase. At the end of the last school year, District No. 1 had 5,464 students. This year the district started with 5,906 students and currently sit at 5,610 students.
There is another big piece that is still being debated. Negotiations between the Sweetwater Education Association and the school board have been rocky this year. At the recent board meeting during the public comment portion, SEA President Jene Chollak noted the contract has been voted down twice and the SEA will continue to work with the board.
Board Chairman Brady Baldwin said at the meeting there is a past agreement between the two which states any comments made would be made jointly and they would not have any comment on the negotiations.
During public comment at the meeting, several people pointed to a special education piece which seems to be one of the factors in the negotiations. Emotional public comment explained while pay for special education instructors would be frozen, the new piece would mean more work would be added to teachers. Fears that the students would suffer were strongly voiced.
As they wait to get a better idea of this year’s numbers, the district continues to prepare for a bleak future. Duncan said with the trends, they are looking at a $2.5 million deficit in 2017-2018 and over a $6 million shortfall the following years.
Over 80 percent of the district’s budget is payroll and one of the biggest drivers of the financial shortfall is the continuing rising cost of health care. Duncan said preliminary numbers show the insurance cost is up about 15 percent. This, along with funding cuts at the state level, is adding up. Estimated state cuts to the district this fiscal year is around $600,000.
Duncan said the district will continue to reduce staff by attrition. As vacant positions come up for renewal, the district will look at all these positions and make the decision on whether they need to be filled or not.
Along with these cuts, Duncan said the district is also focusing on pumping up on the revenue side. One way they are doing this is working with a coalition to continue to lobby the state. The coalition includes 11 school districts across the state as well as the Wyoming Education Association.
During the meeting, Board member Neil Kourbelas questioned when the budget would be available to the public. He said once the public can have input, decisions can be made.
By state statute, school districts have to have a public hearing and approve the budget on the third Wednesday in July. This year that meeting will take place on July 20.