- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A coalition of school districts and other groups have told Wyoming lawmakers that cuts to K-12 schools enacted during this year’s legislative session are not fair and are resulting in school closures and teacher layoffs.

Superintendents of 11 districts and statewide organizations representing teachers, school boards and school administrators sent a letter Wednesday to lawmakers claiming the cuts are too severe, especially for small districts.

“Part of what we’re required to do is provide equality to children all across the state, big and small communities, and this is going to be tragic,” said Donna Little-Kaumo, superintendent of Sweetwater School District 2.

Faced with steep declines in mineral revenues, the Legislature cut about $36 million over the next two-year budget period from an account that helps districts cover rising prices on things such as textbooks, materials, utilities and wages for teachers and other personnel.

But the districts noted they’re facing additional, automatic cuts in state aid that’s based on enrollment, which is falling in some schools. Thousands of jobs have been lost because of the downturn in the state’s mineral extraction industry, which is the main source of state revenue.

Little-Kaumo said her district, which is based in Green River, is losing $400,000 in state funding this year and another $560,000 the following year. Her district has also lost about 50 students and expects to lose more, costing the district more funding that’s based on enrollment, she said.

A neighboring district has closed an elementary school, Little-Kaumo said. “It’s going to be pretty tragic pretty quick if people don’t understand what’s happening.”

Republican Rep. Steve Harshman, who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and a teacher in Casper, said legislators will be monitoring how schools are faring.

“We’ll know more I think with enrollment next year,” Harshman said.

He noted that the state aid based on enrollment is designed to soften any cuts to schools by limiting the loss of money for each student to no more than a third of the previous year’s funding support.

“If you lose 100 students, you only get funding cut for 33,” Harshman said.

Little-Kaumo said school districts losing students can handle having their state aid adjusted down, but the additional loss of the state funding not tied to enrollment is too much for some districts.

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