Keith Boone and Haley Helmbolt

Keith Boone, a principal in Fallon, Nevada, speaks with University of Wyoming senior and education major Haley Helmbolt during Friday’s Teacher Fair at the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center.

SHANNON BRODERICK/Boomerang photographer

When University of Wyoming student Hannah Hass graduates in May, she said she hopes she can find a teaching job in her home state.

“That’s the plan,” she said. “I love Wyoming. I’d really love to stay. But we’ll see.”

For some College of Education majors such as Hass looking to find jobs in Wyoming’s public schools, a preference to stay in the state might seem like a less appealing option than when they started college.

Estimates project a roughly $400 million shortfall in K-12 education funding projected each year for the next several years.

Lawmakers struck a last-minute deal on the final day of the 64th Wyoming Legislature cutting about $34 million from education starting July 1.

Hass, a Cheyenne native, said she’s heard about the budget cuts to K-12 education. As a prospective employee that wants to work in Wyoming, she said it’s “something to worry about.” Given the circumstances, Hass said she’s weighing her options.

“I don’t have to be in Wyoming, but that’d be my first choice,” she said. “I’m getting married in June — he’s a teacher, too — but we’re not settled down. I’m open to going somewhere else.”

Hass was one of many soon-to-be College of Education graduates at Friday’s UW Teacher Fair at the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center. There, employers came from all across Wyoming, as well as from other nearby states, to interview potential employees.

Kristi Mease, an administrator in Plateau Valley School District No. 50 in Mesa County, Colorado, said many of the UW College of Education students she spoke with at the Teacher Fair stand out compared to those at other job fairs she’s attended.

“They are finding the students are better qualified, trained and prepared than some other places we attend,” Mease said.

Though she hasn’t hired a UW graduate for a job in her district before, Mease said she’d “be very interested in doing so.” And with a full schedule of interviews at Friday’s event, she said it’s a possibility. Mease said knowing some students might be hesitant about working in a Wyoming school district could work in her advantage in trying to scoop up UW’s high-quality College of Education graduates.

“If that’s the case, it might play out well for us,” Mease said.

Casper native Rachel Haass is also scheduled to graduate from UW as a music education major in May. She said she too wants to stay in Wyoming, closer to family and friends. Though Haass focused on Wyoming school districts at Friday’s Teacher Fair, she said looking outside of her home state is a possibility.

“If push comes to shove, I would look at places that have a high teacher salary,” she said.

UW graduates frequently show an interest in the Colorado Front Range school districts, said Ali Shore, director of licensed employment for Poudre Valley School District that includes Fort Collins, Colorado, and Wellington, Colorado. She said she’s hoping to see a higher volume of graduates interested in making an easy move south of the Wyoming border.

“We’re a natural location for people,” Shore said. “It’s close to Wyoming, and a lot have relatives and friends in Colorado. And we’re the most northern (Colorado) school district.”

College of Education Dean Ray Reutzel said UW has good programs for teachers — U.S. News and World Report ranked the college 126th in a field of more than 1,400 schools and colleges of education in the nation. In past years, he said more than 60 percent of UW College of Education graduates found jobs in Wyoming. But as the state’s revenue shortfalls continue to mean cuts to education, Reutzel said keeping UW graduate teachers in the state is likely to become harder to do.

“I expect that number to go down as the state begins to retreat from its commitment to education,” he said. “That’s not going to be great for the state of Wyoming in the long-term. It is the educational apparatus that is the economic engine of the state.”

Of Wyoming’s 48 school districts, Reutzel said only 14 attended Friday’s Teacher Fair — a considerable drop from previous years. With school districts forced to make cuts that result in fewer resources, larger workloads, increased class sizes, stagnant wages and more, he said recruiting and keeping quality teachers in Wyoming is likely going to be a problem.

“What you will see is Wyoming has had a really privileged position in the world of education for a long time,” Reutzel said. “Because a lot of out-of-staters would love to come here and be paid the way Wyoming teachers are. That’s been the attraction to come and live in these little isolated communities. And you take that incentive away, and you take away the fact students are looking at majors at the university and saying, ‘What’s my opportunity if I go down this road?’ and it looks more and more constrained in the state. It could depress our numbers of people choosing education as a field for a while. Pretty soon, you’ve got really constrained teaching pools, and you’re not going to be getting the best people anymore. Your competitive advantage is eroding.”

Laramie County School District No. 1 is facing about $3.4 million in cuts in the next school year.

Matt Strannigan, a former LCSD No. 1 administrator working Friday’s job fair as a contract employee with the district, said they are still out recruiting prospective employees. Whether or not they plan on hiring people they talk to at the Teacher Fair for a job this year, he said it’s good to talk with soon-to-be UW graduates.

“It was real important to us from a recruiting standpoint to get out and identify the best early on, get some names, because it’s a great opportunity for both,” Strannigan said.

Even if some of those graduates find jobs outside of Wyoming now, Strannigan said they could come back.

“What we want to tell them is if we don’t have jobs because of the funding cycle we’re currently in, the boomers are leaving, and there are going to be jobs in the future,” he said.

Strannigan said the current economic crisis is the third bust cycle he’s been through in more than three decades working in LCSD No. 1.

While he thinks prospective teachers now are being realistic about the funding situation, Strannigan said he expects the economy to bounce back eventually.

“This too shall pass,” he said.

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