Natrona County School District employees will get a pay raise as part of next year’s budget.
But declining student enrollment and fading coal revenues mean the district will have to tighten its belt in other areas.
The district’s 2022-23 budget, which the school board approved Wednesday, totals about $354,700,000 of all available funds. It aims to keep spending around $267 million for the coming year.
The budget includes an annual salary and wage increase of approximately 4.4% for district employees. This increase is based on a “competitive analysis of the compensation market”.
Employees will also receive more for their retirement; the budget includes a one-time contribution of $1,500 and a monthly match of $50 for employees who participate in the state-sponsored 457b plan.
The district has lost money due to declining student enrollments experienced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Fall enrollment rates for the district fell from 13,330 students in 2019-20 to 12,754 students in the 2020-2021 school year, according to data maintained by the Wyoming Department of Education. . This has resulted in a budget cut, as state funding is tied to students.
Student enrollment rose slightly to 12,887 students in fall 2021. But it has yet to rebound to pre-pandemic levels.
In response to declining enrollment, the district cut staffing budgets by 45 positions in the 2021-22 school year. This cut will be carried over to the 2022-2023 budget.
The district also lost state money for construction projects due to declining coal industry revenues, Administrator Dave Applegate explained during Wednesday’s budget meeting.
The state gave the district more than $475 million for various construction projects that began in 2010. Coal industry taxes paid for the projects.
This money resulted in a new Kelly Walsh High School and a renovated Natrona County High School, as well as the construction of Roosevelt High School and the Pathways Innovation Center, among other improvements and additions to the district.
But coal revenues have dried up in recent years, and there isn’t as much money to fund construction projects.
Fortunately, the Natrona County School District has set aside a reserve to save for future maintenance costs. Applegate said there’s about $41 million in that account now, enough to pay for maintenance costs over the next decade.