Students in Natrona County won’t have to buy school supplies for the foreseeable future after the local school board approved its budget July 10 and signed off on a handful of changes aimed at curbing families’ education costs.
Earlier this year, the board announced that it was planning to set aside money — $45 per student — so schools could pay for their pupils’ school supplies. On top of that, the board was considering eliminating gate charges at high school activities and events and nixing all student fees.
In all, the changes meant more than $738,000 in additional funding, according to the district. That’s a sizable chunk of money in 2019 for a district that’s spent two years pinching pennies and cutting costs. But, in a rare piece of positive news from the Legislature, lawmakers earlier this year approved a bump in funding to districts. It’s a rare piece of good financial news for a Wyoming school district after years of cuts.
Still, there’s been slight concern among some educators in Natrona County. The bust prompted the school district here to close four schools, among other changes. Teachers expressed concern that, should funding become an issue again in the near future, the new school supplies money would be in jeopardy.
Dirk Andrews, the president of the local chapter of the education association, told the Star-Tribune last month that teachers here are broadly supportive of the intent and goal but that they would ask the school board to study the issue going forward, to ensure the district didn’t overstretch.
Tanya Harris, a tutor at CY Middle, reiterated that position to the board Wednesday night.
“Teachers are very much in favor of (the district) buying school supplies for all students,” she said. “We’re just concerned about unforeseen consequences that could happen in our community.”
She added that “we love idea; we just want to make sure we come back in a year and re-evaluate the idea.”
The board discussed the budget minimally before approving it — the 41-page document is drafted over the entire course of the whole fiscal year, and the budget hearing is typically more of a signing ceremony with a chance for final public comment than a robust debate. But Ray Catellier, the board’s treasurer and the trustee who took the lead in drafting the budget this year, praised the district’s efforts, both this year and in years past, and its school supply plan.
He noted that Natrona County had cut millions without laying off teachers or slashing benefits in recent years.
In all, the district’s total appropriation is $293.4 million. Over $218 million of that is general fund, with the bulk — $132 million — coming in teaching costs.
The passing of the budget makes 2019 the first fiscal year since 2016 in which the district didn’t have to close a school. Elsewhere of note, the district this year gave out a one-time bonus to its more than 2,000 employees thanks to an insurance premium hike that never came. The board also established a new fund to save money for building costs and repairs in the future, a move no doubt inspired by the state’s recent struggles to identify a firm source of that funding going forward.
The district has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding over the past several years as it built and renovated a number of schools, including both large high schools. That work is largely done — though the board announced an expansion of Park Elementary earlier this year — and the trustees have turned their eyes to preserving the fleet of new buildings.