Green River schools will be cutting four sports programs and four coaching jobs beginning with the 2017-18 school year, activities director Tony Beardsley confirmed to the Star-Tribune on Wednesday.
The statewide school funding crunch prompted education officials to eliminate spring tennis, spring golf, indoor track and field and the cheerleading team specific to the wrestling program Beardsley said.
Sweetwater County School District No. 2 will also eliminate four football coaching positions, two from the high school and two from the middle school programs, as well as all salaries for club activities. That includes programs such as art club, yearbook and drama.
The decision was made unanimously by an 18-person task force that the district created in the face of Wyoming’s public education funding crisis. The task force consisted of Superintendent Donna Little-Kaumo, board members, staff within the activities department and district administrators.
Ultimately, the Wyoming Legislature passed a law that will cut more than $34 million in public education next year. The reduction was an attempt by lawmakers to address a public education funding crunch that could hit $1.8 billion in the near future. Because Wyoming public education is funded heavily by the mineral industry, a downturn in that economy has had a significant impact on schools.
Educators, coaches and teachers said in February they were concerned about the effect possible cuts may have on activities such as sports, drama and music.
Generally speaking, districts have wide latitude with their budgets: Different categories receive different levels of funding from the state as dictated by a model, but the money goes to districts in lump-sum block grants. That means districts can fund above — or below — what’s technically allowed in the model. For instance, in Sweetwater No. 2, the model allows for about $750,000 in activities funding, but the district nearly doubles it, to $1.4 million.
Little-Kaumo said in February that district leaders were considering eliminating spring golf and tennis along with indoor track.
“[P]arents are going to see some differences, including activities,” she said. “What those differences are going to be, we don’t know yet.”
“The amount of cuts we were looking at was $1.6 million,” Beardsley said Wednesday. “So our overriding philosophy was to keep all certified staff, to keep administrators, teachers, all of that.”
The state’s education funding problems are being felt in other districts as well. In Park County District No. 6, Cody High School’s activities budget is also facing cuts.
Cody High School activities director Tony Hult said the activities department has made a proposal to eliminate $80,000 from next year’s budget in hopes of holding out for one more year. Options include cutting the same programs as Green River, plus swimming and skiing programs.
“We have a number of programs that are on the docket,” Hult said.
The Cody school board will meet in May to determine what cuts will need to be made in order to meet their projections.
Cuts to activities budgets worry educators, who say the programs help students stay in school and graduate. Terry Hooker, the activities director for Natrona County School District, said recently that seniors participating in activities have a 95 percent graduation rate, while the rate for other seniors is about 65 percent.
Beardsley said that no teachers will be laid off due to the cuts, but some open positions left by departing teachers will not be filled by the time classes resume for the next academic year.
Keeping teaching jobs became the top priority for the task force and the driving force behind what programs and expenses would be eliminated.
“We want to keep our programs high-quality,” Beardsley said. “But we had to cut to keep permanent teaching jobs because that affects our classrooms the most.”
The task force aimed to cut 10 percent from each area of funding, ranging from salaries to travel and supplementing coaching positions.
Sweetwater County District No. 2 allows Green River a $1.4 million budget, and the target number of cuts to be made was set at $250,000.
The decision to cut those four activities programs was made because of sustainability and redundancies of having similar programs.
“It became ‘If we want to save jobs, should we be offering the spring portion of golf and tennis?’” Beardsley said. “’As long as we offer the fall and outdoor track and field, we should consider eliminating spring tennis and golf.’”
The existence of a cross country team in the fall also factored into the decision to eliminate indoor track and field.
Beardsley said eliminating the indoor track and field team was the most difficult decision. Participation numbers were not considered as a determining factor as much as expenditures and lost classroom time for participating students.
“We weren’t looking at the numbers of athletes,” Beardsley said. “We were looking at the sustainability of two programs instead of one.”
Green River also has a separate cheerleading program that performs at other sporting events and takes part in cheerleading competitions. A cheerleading team solely for the 13-time state champion wrestling program was seen as unnecessary.
Some of the minor cuts involved students paying for their own meals during all traveling events, except for state-culminating events. Little-Kaumo said in February that the district was considering charging fees to play certain sports.
Other programs have done separate fundraising in hopes of staying untouched by cuts.
Beardsley did not rule out the return of the programs that were eliminated if the district’s financial standing were to take a turn for the better, though he is not optimistic.
“It’s not out of the question that those activities could return at some point,” he said. “However, with things the way they are right now, we don’t see that happening.”
Star-Tribune staff writer Seth Klamann contributed to this report.