Revenue for Teton County schools is increasing, which on its face sounds positive.
However, the way Wyoming’s foundation block grant program works, most of that increased revenue ends up leaving the county. The state’s educational funding model sets the amount each county receives through a complicated calculation based on enrollment numbers, staffing and cost of living, among other things, and it sets the rate of the districts’ property tax mill levy.
Counties that can’t raise the amount promised through the program are called “entitlement” districts and receive the difference from the state. Those that raise more are “recapture” districts, and the difference between their funding amount and revenue is distributed to the entitlement districts.
So even though the district’s total revenue from property taxes and other sources is expected to be $77.8 million in fiscal year 2022, it will send an estimated $22 million around the state to districts without such strong property tax revenues. In fiscal year 2021, that number was $12.2 million.
At the July 7 school board meeting, Trustee Bill Scarlett asked Executive Director of Resources Kristen Mayo how many other recapture districts were in Wyoming.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “It’s getting fewer and fewer.”
Trustee Janine Bay Teske said she thought there are only three or four, including Teton County. Fortunes are changing for districts around the state as the minerals industry shrinks, though Teton County was an entitlement district before its post-recession economic revival.
After the recapture money goes to the state, the school district is looking at $55.8 million of revenue, with estimated expenditures of $56.2 million. Like most employers, staff salaries are the bulk of the district’s expenses. Compensation is budgeted to be $48.8 million, nearly 87% of the district’s spending in the next fiscal year.
The district spends more on personnel than the model provides, opting for fewer general support resources and clerical staff. According to the model, the district should have 316 school staff, but instead it has 345.
“We’re actually moving … budget dollars from the support services [and] general support into instruction,” Mayo told the board.
The revenue numbers in the budget could change slightly because the foundation block grant is not set for the next fiscal year, but they should remain largely the same. Though the Wyoming Legislature contemplated cuts to school budgets during its last session, it made no significant changes to the school funding model.
They could come down the pipeline in future years because of the hit the state budget has taken due to shrinking extractive industry revenue. For now, the Legislature is using the rainy day fund to cover the difference.
The Teton County school board approved the fiscal year 2022 budget unanimously.