The annual audit of the Natrona County School District uncovered no issues with the district’s books, a private accountant told the school board Monday night.
The audit is handled by Casper firm Port, Muirhead, Cornia, Howard. For at least the past few years, the annual examinations have turned up no issues with the school district’s budget, which typically hovers just below $300 million. The firm gave the district a perfect bill of health last year, for instance, after Natrona County’s school spending was scrutinized by an open records watchdog on Forbes.com.
The audit was empty of controversy, but it provided plenty of snapshots into the district’s spending amid a time of tight budgets across the state. For instance, the district receives about $15,000 per actually enrolled student, a tick down from last year but still higher than most years this decade.
The district still receives the majority of its funding from the state, rather than from local sources. The school funding model in Wyoming is funded heavily by various taxes and royalties, with the majority of the budgetary burden falling on the shoulders of the minerals industries. Indeed, taking into account school construction and maintenance, Wyoming’s extraction enterprises constitute as much as 70 percent of the overall school budget, which tops $1.5 billion statewide.
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In Natrona County, about 80 percent of the funding that keeps the lights on and teachers employed here comes from the state.
The district spends just under $500,000 a day, the audit found, though that’s likely a low number: The figure is calculated using a 365-day calendar, rather than the nine-month academic calendar. Still, it’s a testament to the cost of running a school district of roughly 30 schools, more than 2,000 employees and more than 13,000 students. It’s also the lowest per-day cost in four years.
Overall, accounting for recent cuts and the end of widespread construction in the county, the district had its lowest overall spending of governmental funds since at least 2014.
The annual audit comes as district administrators process two pieces of good news. First, the district’s enrollment is up — significantly so, to the tune of 350 or so students. If that number holds, even by a fraction, then the district should get a solid funding bump while filling empty elementary school seats.
Second, two key groups of lawmakers and Gov. Mark Gordon have thrown their support behind a $19 million funding boost to schools for next year. It’s unclear how much of that will come Natrona County’s way, but because the district is the second-largest in the state by more than 4,000 students and one of only a handful with more than 5,000 students, it’s likely NCSD would see a solid chunk.
That funding boost — essentially an inflation adjustment — isn’t certain, especially in a budget session where many lawmakers will be looking to make cuts. But supporters, including Gordon, have said the adjustment is constitutionally required.