- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Lawmakers settled on less severe budget cuts for Wyoming public schools, but educators are divided on what it means for the future.

The budget approved by the Legislature cuts about $36 million from K-12 education instead of $45 million as they had originally planned in January to compensate for declines in energy revenue.

The proposal is now before Gov. Matt Mead, who can sign the measure or make line-item changes to the bill.

The plan calls for a 1 percent cut from school funding the first year of a two-year budget, and 1.4 percent the second year. The original bill called for a 2 percent cut the second year.

“It’s tough when cuts are made to K-12 education, but considering where we started, I think it underscores our continued commitment to keeping education a priority,” said Kari Eakins, spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Education.

The cuts will be taken exclusively from the external cost adjustment account, which is essentially an extra pot of money that makes up for the increasing cost of textbooks, materials and wages. The main formula used to fund schools was not altered.

Money from the newly-created external cost adjustment account only began arriving last year, but some districts say it now makes or breaks their budgets.

Kathy Vetter, president of the Wyoming Education Association, said schools are still facing a $15 million reduction next year, the same decrease suggested in January.

“When you go in and come out with the same number, it didn’t feel like a compromise,” she told the Casper Star-Tribune (https://bit.ly/1XY68Wm).

Districts, especially rural ones, will ultimately have to trim services, she said.

However, Wyoming’s second largest school district is not fearful of the cuts. The Natrona County School District has been preparing for this for more than 18 months, said Superintendent Steve Hopkins.

“A year ago we could see this on the landscape,” he said. “We are going to stay on that track and continue to look for ways to run the district more efficiently.”

Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, said he understands educators who don’t want any cuts.

“But the simple fact is, if we don’t try the very best we can to curb education spending now, we are going to have a severe problem in the future,” Greear said.


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, https://www.trib.com

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