GREEN RIVER — The Sweetwater County School District No. 2 Board of Trustees approved a letter to be sent to the Select Committee on School Finance Recalibration during their meeting on Tuesday, in which the effects of the budget gap on operations is discussed.
The Select Committee recently asked for feedback from the school boards across the state on what impact the estimated K-12 education budget gap to the Wyoming School Foundation Program Account and the School Capital Construction Account would have on school district operations.
The budget gap that exists in the School Foundation Program, which provides a guaranteed level of funding to every Wyoming public school district, is about $515 million for the 2021-22 biennium. The funding for the School Foundation Program is based on a number of factors, including student enrollment.
SCSD No. 2 Business Manger Chris Dean said the letter discloses that SCSD No. 2 has been experiencing declining enrollment for six consecutive years due to contractions within the local economy, and that enrollment has only worsened in the 2020-21 school year.
Enrollment has decreased 185 students (-7.27 percent) this year with the added impact of COVID-19 Coronavirus.
“We have had many families move away and families that have chosen not to send their children back to school by homeschooling or enrolling them in out-of-district virtual schools,” Dean said.
The shortfall from the decreased enrollment is about $865,000, or 2.2 percent, of the district’s guarantee, and it is forcing them to make difficult decisions in the next school year. The additional 10 percent reduction the state is asking school districts to make would be approximately $3.9 million cut from SCSD No. 2 budget.
With about 81.6 percent of the budget going to personnel costs, Dean said there are “a lot of unknowns” as to how to deal with the budget shortfalls.
“We know we have to be prepared,” Dean said. “Unfortunately, the district will have to look at all avenues.”
Dean said the upcoming legislative session will provide more insight into the next budget year, but the goal is to ensure the shortfalls have the least amount of impact possible on students.
“We want to strive to least effect the students in the classroom at all costs,” she said.
The School District’s Suggestions
One of suggestions the district included in the letter to the Select Committee is to consider the recommendation to support a constitutional, cost-based level of funding.
“We do not believe the budget gap should dictate a new cost basis for funding education,” Dean said.
The second suggestion is to maintain the block grant model and avoid the dissection of specific areas within the model via new mandates or restrictions on the use of block grant funds.
“Categorical components with restrictions and limitations would severely limit our flexibility and ability to serve our students in the best way possible,” Dean said. “We need to advocate for this, it’s the most important in my opinion.”
The third and final suggestion is to consider temporarily lifting the maximum carryover for school district reserves so districts can take cost-saving measures that can be used to offset future school years potential loss in revenue.
“We do support a multifaceted approach of revenue generation, use of rainy day resources to lessen some of the shortfall impacts, and thirdly, budget cuts. And that we will do our part to do what we can,” Dean said.
A budget task force being is being formed to discuss these budget issues further, Dean said. There will be a cross section of all avenues of the district, including school board representation, Central Administration, school administration from all three levels, certified and support staff from all three levels, and parent representation.
The first meeting will be in mid-December.
Read the complete letter below:
In other business, newly elected and re-elected board members were sworn in Tuesday night. Incumbent Trustees Steve Core, Mark Sanders, and Brenda Roosa, and new board member David Young, were all sworn in.
Trustee Corina Tynsky, who did not run for re-election, thanked the board, district, and community for supporting her during her years on the board. She said she chose not to run again this year due to time commitments. However, she said she hopes to have the community’s support if she chooses to run again in the future.