When Wyoming lawmakers entered the last day of session on Wednesday, they still had not come up with a final budget for schools K-12. The two houses were trying to reconcile their two version of House Bill 173 and remained …
When Wyoming lawmakers entered the last day of session on Wednesday, they still had not come up with a final budget for schools K-12. The two houses were trying to reconcile their two version of House Bill 173 and remained in conference committee until after 4 p.m. when indications had been they would be done hours earlier.
Park County School District 1 Superintendent Jay Curtis said at the time that it was “anybody’s guess” what the reconciliation would look like, if an agreement could even be reached.
Curtis had tuned in to the conference earlier on Wednesday.
“It didn’t look like it was going well,” he said, and issued the opinion that there might be no agreement hammered out at all. In that instance, there would be no change to the funding schools received last year and they would be in line for the same funds this year.
That turned out to be exactly how the session ended, with no consensus on cutting the budget and no solution to the state’s predicted $300 million of red ink in the education budget. In one signficant difference between the two chambers, the House’s version called for adding a 0.5% sales tax if the balance in the state’s rainy day fund fell below a certain level, but the Senate’s version did not.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate members of the joint conference committee finally determined not to return to the negotiation table with their counterparts from the House, feeling there was no road forward to agreement.
“This is where the rubber hits the road,” Curtis said. “I am fascinated by the whole process and it will be interesting to see where it all ends.”
PCSD1 had already made plans to adjust its budget in anticipation of $1 million in cuts in state funding.
Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, suggested during the committee meeting that school districts should pad their reserve funds with any federal stimulus money that came in, because those reserves could tide the districts over. “... put it in reserves, because you’re going to need it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Curtis said there are still a few things at work that will impact the district funding.
“The budget bill still has changes in how insurance is calculated in the model,” he noted, although he was unsure how that change was calculated. He estimated it would be about a 3% increase in costs to the district or employees’ contribution to their health insurance. There is also an external cost adjustment, tied to inflation. That adjustment will reduce the cost adjustment, although Curtis was not well versed in how that calculation was made, either.
“I don’t know how they can say inflation went down when anyone who has priced a home or gone to the gas station in Powell doesn’t see it that way,” he said.
District budget suggestions that will be presented to the board of trustees Monday will contain some of the early planned reductions. Those include attrition — with retiring educators at the high end of the experienced-based pay scale being replaced by those with fewer years behind the desk — and restructuring, where an educator’s salary is moved from the general fund to federally supplied dollars earmarked for specialized instruction.
“The majority of our employees won’t notice the reductions we’re making,” Curtis said. “But we are positioning ourselves for reductions [in funding from the state] that we are confident will come.”