EVANSTON — The Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees held its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 5, when the likelihood of significant budget cuts was discussed. While there are still many unknowns surrounding what will happen during the 2021 Wyoming Legislative session, the early indications are that the district will be forced to cut up to approximately $3 million dollars from the budget.
Superintendent Ryan Thomas focused on the budget situation during a discussion on the lifetime of service stipend offered to retiring teachers who have dedicated many years of service to the district. Thomas said he thinks the district should consider offering more incentives for long-term teachers to take early retirement, which could help allow the district to cut the budget through attrition rather than a reduction in force.
Speaking on the early budget numbers, Thomas said, “The starting point isn’t good, but that may change.” He said the legislative recalibration and appropriations committees met in December and approved the legislative funding model developed through the regular recalibration process; however, the committees then took $100 million “off the top” of the total state funding amount in the model. For UCSD No. 1, that would result in a 6.5% cut.
Exacerbating the problem is that enrollment in the district is down, which will result in a further cut of approximately 1.7%. Thomas said a combined 8.2% funding cut would amount to about $3.3 million, which he said would be the largest budget cut he’s seen during his time with the district.
Thomas said the potential 8.2% cut is definitely “not good news,” but it’s also not the approximately 16% cut that earlier this school year, was once suggested might be a possibility. He also cautioned that it’s still too early to know what the Wyoming Legislature might decide to do in terms of any new revenue, as it has been proposed by some lawmakers to institute an additional 1% sales tax statewide directed solely to education. Any additional revenue could change the budgetary picture.
To prepare for potential looming cuts, however, Thomas said he would like to look at ways to incentivize early retirement, such as through enhanced health insurance coverage for retirees, rather than being forced to simply cut staff.
The budget and any potential incentives will be discussed again at the February meeting, by which point Thomas said there may be a clearer picture of what moves the legislature intends to make.
In other business, trustees discussed the calendars for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. Thomas said the 2021-22 draft calendar that was approved last year is nearly identical to the current school year. Most notably, that calendar, like the 2020-21 calendar, has the last day of school prior to Memorial Day, simply because that holiday falls particularly late in May during 2021 and 2022. The first day of school next fall would be Aug. 23. On the 2022-23 calendar, the first day would shift back to later in the month on Aug. 29, with a final day of June 2, 2023.
Both the final 2021-22 calendar and the draft 2022-23 calendar will be up for approval in February.
Trustees approved the expenditure of $27,835 for the purchase of audiological testing equipment from e3 MSR West in Layton, Utah, as requested by special education director Matt Williams, for discounted used equipment to meet the needs of district students. In addition, trustees approved a request from chief financial officer John Williams to solicit financing for the lease of two new buses — one route bus and one special services bus with a lift — for a total of just over $305,000. The district will be reimbursed by the state for the costs over a five-year time period.
Thomas and trustees also briefly discussed the recent Wyoming Supreme Court ruling on Rule CKA, the district’s concealed carry policy, which found the rule was null and void. Thomas and board chair Jami Brackin indicated discussion would be held at future meetings as to whether the district will again begin the process of adopting a concealed carry policy; however, Thomas said it is important for the public to know that administrative action has been taken to comply with the null and void ruling.
Finally, during the board round table, Brackin brought up COVID-19 vaccinations, noting the county had started vaccinating healthcare workers and high-risk individuals. She said she believes teachers will be among the next group to receive vaccinations, in the near future. While the district has no plans to require the vaccinations for teachers, Brackin discussed finding some type of incentive to encourage district staff to get the vaccinations to help ensure students stay in school and ultimately return to normal operations without the need for COVID-19 precautions that have been in place all school year.