Teton County School District No. 1 will take in a lot more property tax revenue this year, but that doesn’t mean it will see a sizeable jump in its budget.
Due to a 17% anticipated jump in property taxes in Teton County, a result of the state assessor’s office mandating that the county assessor increase property valuations in 2018, the school district will collect $7.7 million more in the 25-mill special district tax it levies on Teton County homeowners. The state of Wyoming sets the 25 mills as part of its School Foundation Program, which guarantees a minimum level of funding to each school district in the state.
“Property tax does not equate to our revenue,” information coordinator Charlotte Reynolds said. “Just because we collect that extra money doesn’t mean that it stays in Teton County.”
In fact the school district’s recapture payments, the amount it sends to the state to be distributed to other districts, is expected to increase substantially this fiscal year, which started July 1. Last year’s recapture payments were about $7.5 million, and this year’s budget puts them at an expected $12 million.
Even so the school district’s budget lists an increase of $6.5 million in revenue after factoring in the increased recapture payments. The total expected revenue is almost $54.6 million, while the anticipated expenditures are about $53.8 million. Though the foundation guarantee won’t be set until February, the budget Mayo produced estimated it to be $52.9 million.
One trend that has been present throughout much of the past decade is an increase in staffing costs as a percentage of the budget. In fiscal year 2010 staffing — which includes salaries and benefits for teachers, administrators and office staff — was 84.1% of the district’s budget. In fiscal year 2020 staffing is expected to make up 88.1% of the expenditures.
Though the bump is only 4% of the budget, the past couple of years have included the bulk of the increase, something Trustee Janine Teske asked Executive Director of Resources Kristen Mayo about during the school district board of trustees meeting July 11.
“As a percentage of budget staffing is quite high and growing,” Teske said. “What is causing that? Is it the [regional cost adjustment]?”
Mayo said the regional cost adjustment, which adjusts the amount of money given to the district by the state based on the cost of living in each district, played a role, especially given a trend of rising rents and home prices in Teton County. But it’s not the entire reason.
“It takes three to four years for a rent increase to affect the budget,” Mayo said. “We also have a rich benefits package that pushes the percentage up.”
Offering a robust benefits package and high teacher salaries is part of the district’s push to retain teachers in the face of high costs of living, Reynolds said. However, as that percentage climbs higher, it makes the district less flexible were state funding to be reduced.
In the past few years, as minerals royalties fell and state legislators considered cuts to school budgets, the district did cut benefits to staff and trimmed its operations budget. But with operations making up only about 12% of the budget for this fiscal year, that tactic is becoming less feasible.
“It’s certainly something we have to be conscious of,” Reynolds said. “The board was aware of and struggled with it a little bit during recent years. When you have reductions you can only cut operations so far.”
In looking at the budget, which the trustees unanimously approved Thursday, enrollment trends also become apparent. Recent years saw an increase in the Jackson Hole Middle School population and bigger class sizes at the school. As students have grown older, the attendant capacity issues are moving into Jackson Hole High School as well.
The district is increasing staff pay and hiring several teachers at the secondary level, Reynolds said, to counteract anticipated crowding problems because of consistent enrollment at the elementary level and an increase in secondary students.
“Fortunately we’ve been able to make adjustments to staffing based on enrollment,” Reynolds said. “We haven’t had to do a reduction in force.”