Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Cindy Glasson
Reporter Photographer 

School funding deficit hits small schools hard

 


If House Bill 233 (HB233) should pass this legislative session, teachers on all levels, from local educators to the University of Wyoming and community colleges could be facing a salary and benefit reduction across the board beginning July 1, 2017.

According to the bill, the Board of Trustees in each school district shall “require any employment contract with a school district employee to provide that the employee's salary and benefits are subject to reduction as part of any general compensation reduction approved by the legislature.”

The above also applies to the University of Wyoming and all community colleges in the state.

The bill would allow the legislature to determine what teachers are paid.

The legislature knew last session there would be a financial deficit in school funding, but they had no idea how large that deficit was going to be. Now they know that deficit will be $760 million over the next two years. Small schools in the state will be hit the hardest because of the deficit, including our Hot Springs County School District.

“I want small schools to be held harmless,” Representative Nathan Winters said. “This is just one of four bills that approach school funding and we’re going to have to take a really good look at all of them.”

According to Winters, cuts were made last year, knowing a deficit was coming, including 82 state agency positions, 202 from the University of Wyoming, 98 from community colleges and an additional 233 other positions.

Fifty-three more have now been cut with 75 recommended positions on the line.

“Looking across the spectrum, a total of 743 positions were eliminated,” Winters said. “That reduced a lot of programs.

“I fought hard two years ago for teacher salary cost adjustments. Now we’ve dipped into the ‘rainy day’ fund as well as the education department’s ‘rainy day’ fund.

“We spend over a billion dollars a year on education in Wyoming which amounts to about $14,000 per pupil.”

Historically, Wyoming has a “boom and bust” economy, and with education depending heavily on minerals like oil and gas, things have been tight before.

During the 90’s there was a gradual downturn from the boom of the 80’s, with the tightening coming over several years. This time, however, the drop has come quickly, a deep drop in a matter of just two years.

“Wyoming is very dependent on mineral severance taxes,” Winters said. “We need to have some solid conversation about this. With the new administration in Washington, D.C. opening up drilling again we hope the situation will correct itself.”

Another education related bill, HB191, came up on Monday.

HB191 would allow Hathaway Scholarships to two deserving students from each of the bordering states to Wyoming.

That would mean 12 Hathaway Scholarships for two students from Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah and Idaho.

Winters said $12 million in scholarships were given to Wyoming students last year.

“I don’t want to jeopardize the current program,” he said. “We had to dip into the stabilization account last year just to cover the number of scholarships awarded.

“Will we potentially put ourselves in a position of insolvency? I want to make sure we’re being wise with our decisions.”

 

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