SHERIDAN — Sheridan County School District 2 will likely see a slight decrease in its general budget next year as a result of education bills passed last month by the Wyoming Legislature.
SCSD2 business manager Roxie Taft said next year’s budget will be about $85,000 less than this year’s budget of just under $50 million. The losses would have been larger if not for an increased district enrollment next year of around 91 students.
“It would have been about triple that if we hadn’t had the growth that we’ve seen,” Taft said of the budget decreases.
The cuts come largely as a result of House Bill 140, which reduces state K-12 education funding by about $27 million over the next two years. Changes in enrollment calculations — from a school building level to a district level — will cost SCSD2 about $70,000 in 2018-19 and about $140,000 in 2019-20.
Another notable portion of HB 140 is the cap — or freeze — on special education. The cap limits special education reimbursement funding for school districts in 2019-20 and 2020-21 to not exceed reimbursements for 2018-19. The cap is a harbinger of uncertainty for the next two years.
“Right now it’s just wait and see,” Taft said.
“We don’t ever know which kids are going to walk through our door … There are just a lot of unknowns in the special education realm.”
However, SCSD2 superintendent Craig Dougherty said that isn’t so different from the overall uncertainty looming over Wyoming public education.
“Everything’s kind of an unknown in terms of state revenues, whether coal and oil and gas come back,” Dougherty said. “When you look at the entire state and a $27 million cut and you look at where K-12 is potentially in a huge deficit still, I think legislators and the governor worked really hard on trying to have as minimal an impact on education as possible.”
Taft and Dougherty are worried about the moratorium on bus purchases included in HB 140 as well, because the district wants to replace a few buses in the near future. The moratorium can only be lifted in case of emergency. Even if a bus is purchased, it cannot be leased, meaning all costs must be covered right away.
“You’d have to basically buy a bus up front and then the [state] will reimburse you 100 percent for the bus the following year,” Taft said.
SCSD2 will also lose about $88,000 from cuts to assessment funding and have a small gain from changes to groundskeeper funding.
Both Dougherty and Taft supported a different House bill that adds a 2 percent increase from an employee’s eligible wages over the next four years for employers and employees participating in the state retirement pension program. SCSD2 currently covers about two-thirds of employee contributions and will likely continue to do so.
“The more that employees can put into their own retirement accounts that [they] will see when [they] retire — we think that’s a positive,” Dougherty said. “It keeps everything healthy for all employees in the state.”
A Senate file that will mandate computer science and computational thinking be taught by school districts won’t change SCSD2 very much because the district has already been working on those areas over the past few years. Most students were already taking a computer science course; soon, all students will.
“We’re trying to fit what kids are using now in terms of technology, versus some canned program that was developed years ago,” Dougherty said. “Algorithms drive everything, so our kids need to be prepared for that.”
Members of the state’s Computer Science Standards Review Committee will also attend a community meeting May 16 at the SCSD2 administrative building.
Overall, both Dougherty and Taft were optimistic about the education bills passed by the Legislature.
“They just want common sense accountability with results, and so we try to make sure we answer that bell for them,” Dougherty said.
Taft will present the district’s preliminary budget to the SCSD2 board of trustees during its May meeting.