School funding calls for “diligence” on part of districts

TORRINGTON – Despite what state lawmakers refer to as positive steps in the Wyoming economy, the legislature this week rejected a proposal to change the education funding model, ending a nine-month roughly $800,000 review that set out to examine an education system facing a significant funding shortfall.
The proposal, drafted by Denver-based consultants Augenblick, Paliach and Associates, was praised by lawmakers even as they turned it down.
Sen. Hank Coe, who chaired the committee that oversaw recalibration, told the consultants they shouldn’t walk away feeling they had failed. Speaker Steve Harshman said the process was a learning experience. Sen. Bill Landen called it a good exercise.
But at the end of the day, “it went down zero to 10,” Coe said.

‘No surprise’
Jean Chrostoski, superintendent of Goshen County School District No. 1, spent two days this week, listening to the debate in Cheyenne. The outcome didn’t come as a surprise, she said.
“I feel the committee appreciated the work of the consulting firm and will probably use some of the recommendations in the future,” Chrostoski said in an email Thursday. “But, as a whole, they did not move forward with their full recommendations. The positive side of this process is the legislature now know Wyoming is not ‘over-funding’ education.”
For some legislators, the proposal’s price tag – at least $70 million more than what the state now pays – was too high. Coe said he was disappointed in the final product. Harshman and Sen. Chris Rothfuss said the proposal’s cost of living adjustment – known as the regional cost adjustment – would hurt too many districts. Landen said he didn’t want to bring a new model to a legislative session that meets in just two weeks.
In their closing remarks before the proposal was rejected, multiple lawmakers cited the regional cost adjustment as their primary concern.
It’s essentially a cost of living adjustment to provide equity between school districts: It’s more expensive to live and work in Jackson, for instance, than it is to live in Pine Bluffs, so Teton County School District receives money to account for that difference.
But what index would be used for that adjustment has been a repeated point of contention. The consultants’ recommended index, coupled with its broader proposals, would have drastic effects on different districts. For instance, Teton County would lose nearly $5 million compared to what it currently receives. Laramie County School District No. 1 would lose more than $10 million. But Campbell County would gain nearly
$11 million.
“Essentially, what the (regional cost adjustment) does, the further away from Yellowstone you get, the less money you get,” Landen said. “With Teton, no question, you’ve got to have a model that’s going
to adjust.”

Funding reductions
GCSD’s Chrostoski said the local district is still looking to reduce its annual budget by about $1 million, a proposal floated to the school board following the 2017 legislative session, as news broke of pending state-wide education funding cuts. GCSD has already eliminated two positions at the Central District Office in Torrington, as well as one position at Torrington High School, she said.
Additional reductions may be in the offing, with district officials examining the need to fill positions as current members of staff resign,
she said.
“As people resign, we are carefully studying whether the duties of that position can be delegated to current staff,” Chrostoski said. “This process has included the input of all of our staff and priorities were vetted by a budget committee of the (school) board.”
Marcy Cates, business manager for the district, reported to the board of trustees last March the results of sweeping funding cuts to education made by the Wyoming Legislature during the last session. Cates said at the time GCSD would have to shoulder its share of the $34.5 million in funding cuts state-wide, expected to reduce its fiscal year 2017-18 coffers by almost $1 million.
For the 2016-17 school year, the district received almost $31.1 million in funding from three sources – the state’s School Foundation Guarantee, Instructional Facilitator grant and the BRIDGES program grant, which funds summer school and after-school program, Cates said. For the 2017-18 school year, when those three funding sources are combined into one pot, the district will get just more than $30.1 million.
While the outlook is better now, Chrostoski said, there are still concerns for the district.
“Although the outlook may not be as grim as it was a year ago, the reality is that Goshen County School District still needs to brace itself for funding reductions,” she said. “School districts still need to be diligent and watch draft bills that may be coming that would have a negative impact on the education of our students or those that would take away local control.”

Portions of this report were by Seth Klamann of the Casper Star-Tribune via the Wyoming News Exchange.

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