The Wyoming Department of Education still hasn’t released its preliminary funding model for the 2019-2020 academic year, but Albany County School District No. 1 is currently projected to get a $600,000 increase in its block grant funding from the current year, ACSD No. 1 business manager Ed Goetz told school board members Wednesday.
WDE’s preliminary funding model is typically released by this point each year, but Goetz said staffing changes at the department could delay the release of the model, which takes into account this year’s legislative changes, until as late as May.
And while the district’s block grant is likely to increase next year, Albany County schools will face some significantly increased costs during the same school year, Goetz said.
The cost of health insurance through the Wyoming Educators’ Benefit Trust will increase by 4.3 percent, costing the district $300,000.
The district is also likely to increase its contributions to the state retirement fund in both the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years as part of the state effort to improve its pension solvency.
And special education costs remain a constant uncertainty while state funding for special education continues to be frozen at 2017 levels.
But even with those costs, Superintendent Jubal Yennie said this year’s budgeting process shouldn’t be “a heavy lift.”
The school board’s Wednesday work session was the start of its budgeting process for the upcoming academic year.
Yennie is pushing the board to take more “ownership” over the district’s budget this year, and the board is planning at least two more work sessions this spring to hash out budgeting details.
“I want the board to own this budget,” Yennie said. “It shouldn’t just get put together in Jubal and Ed’s office.”
He’s asked board members to identify their own funding priorities, and said he’ll also push for increased pay for employees.
“I’m pretty well committed to making sure we continue to get a pay raise for our employees,” he said. “I think it’s important for us to keep pace, and so that’s one of the things I’m going to ask the board to support.”
A “step”-based pay increase for employees is currently expected to cost $575,000.
Under the district’s salary schedules, a step increase would mean an added $833-$1,182 per administrator, $835 per teacher and other certified employees, and a 1.85 percent increase for the hourly wages of all other employees.
Certain employees might not be eligible for a step increase if their longevity means they’ve already maxed out their pay raise “steps” on the salary schedules.
Yennie’s desire for more board input includes a request for a deliberate decision by the board on how much of the district’s budget is held as reserves.
Under state statute, school districts can hold up to 15 percent of their budget as reserves. A number of exceptions to that rule, however, means that some districts often exceed that 15 percent.
ACSD No. 1, by comparison, is unusual in that it currently holds only 10 percent of its budget as reserves.
That percentage grew to about 12 percent until the district tapped its reserves for design costs of the new Laramie High School that weren’t covered by the state.
After those LHS payments, the district’s reserves dropped down to 7 percent, leading Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the district’s bond rating from AA- to A+.
While the district has maintained a budget of about $59 million during the last four years, a budget cut of about $1.5 million for the 2017-2018 brought the reserves back up to about 10 percent of the overall budget.
While Goetz expressed a desire for keeping the district’s reserves at 10 percent, Yennie said the district’s cash reserve balance merits serious input from the board.
The cuts that led to an increase in reserves have had an impact on the district, Goetz noted. Curriculum and technology have both been underfunded in recent years, and Goetz said he’d like to see more money for both issues in the budget.
“This is an area that I’ve been concerned about for a while — that we haven’t put enough money into that area,” he said.
The district’s technology advisory committee is requesting $130,000 for replacement of staff computers, smart-boards and projectors, but Goetz said he’d prefer to see an increase as large as $200,000-$250,000 in the technology budget and an increase of $80,000-$100,000 for the curriculum budget.
“Having those updated tools in the staff’s hand and students’ hand is important, and that was the theme of this last legislative session,” he said.