BUDGET CRUNCH

Recent reduction in funding is cause for budget cuts within the school district

Chase Anderson

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CHAMPION IN TOWN
May 18, 2021
Powell+High+School+junior+and+track+team+member+Ben+Whitlock+runs+in+a+PHS+track+uniform+during+the+recent+track+meet+in+Cody.+While+sports+teams+may+not+be+entirely+eliminated%2C+the+impending+budget+cuts+that+Park+County+schools+are+currently+facing+could+change+the+way+that+extracurriculars+and+sports+function.

Abby Landwehr

Powell High School junior and track team member Ben Whitlock runs in a PHS track uniform during the recent track meet in Cody. While sports teams may not be entirely eliminated, the impending budget cuts that Park County schools are currently facing could change the way that extracurriculars and sports function.

Across Wyoming, school districts are facing changes regarding the budget for school funds.

 According to Wyoming News Now, as a result of rapidly declining revenue brought in from oil and gas, Wyoming’s K-12 education community is looking at a $300 million structural deficit. With a large reduction in school funds, potential budget cuts have left many individuals in Park County School District 1 wondering what to expect.

There are many different ways the state and school districts can handle a reduction in funding. Solutions from cutting extracurricular activities and eliminating sports teams to reducing the amount of teachers in one school are all being contemplated. 

“Our strategy here from the very beginning is that we want to preserve people and programs,” Superintendent Mr. Jay Curtis said. “We have made decisions to try and realize some of our cuts through attrition, which is where when someone leaves, we just don’t replace them or we replace them with someone who is less expensive.”

Attrition can be a useful aid for schools who are facing immense funding cuts. When a teacher at the top of a pay scale retires, they can be replaced with a teacher who is much less expensive to hire, like a first-year teacher. This can save $30,000-$35,000 alone.

“Outside of [attrition], we are looking at pretty much everything that we do,” Mr. Curtis said. “Attrition is just one tool that we are looking at right now and through that and other personnel decisions, we think that we can find probably $350,000 to $400,000 [in savings].”

While attrition can help soften the severity of impending cuts, the potential impact on sports and activities could involve changes to the way teams have functioned in the past.

“Students next year may have to pay for more meals than they do this year; we may go more years without buying new uniforms,” Mr. Curtis said. “We are looking at computer programs we use, technology replacement, building budgets, and don’t take this as we are looking to cut activities, because we are not, but we are looking to potentially restructure activities.”

Not only could these major budget cuts impact the activities that students participate in and love, but the effects of the cuts could also have many consequences within classrooms. Increased class sizes and a reduced amount of teachers could have dramatic effects on the quality of student education.

In an interview with Wyoming Public Media, Wyoming Educators Association (WEA) President Gary Hutcherson discussed the impact of budget cuts on students overall. 

“I know, firsthand, that these devastating and arbitrary cuts will lead to a loss of jobs in school districts, and those people will then be forced out of their communities,” Hutcherson said. “It also will negatively impact students because, ultimately, it will increase the class size. So, all of those issues are very concerning and problematic.” 

By being careful with money and finding other ways of saving funds, Mr. Curtis hopes PHS students will not be as deeply affected by the potential reductions in funds as students in other schools.

“We are trying to keep [the effects of budget cuts] as far away from the classroom as we can,” Mr. Curtis said. “What a lot of people may not know, though I think many do, is that extracurriculars and sports, they are a part of our educational opportunities. 

“Research has long settled the debate that students who are involved in at least one sport are more likely to be successful academically,” Mr. Curtis said. “When you get to be a part of a group where you feel safety, security, and belonging, those are kind of the hooks that keep kids going in school.” 

The Legislative General Session regarding funding cuts in K-12 is set to come to a close on April 2. More information will then come to light in the days to follow which will give schools a clearer picture as to how they will need to manage the funding cuts.

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