General fund revenue for Riverton schools is expected to drop by about 3 percent for the upcoming 2018 academic year.
That figure is only slightly less than what had been projected when the school board agreed to lay off some staff in April, and Fremont County School District 25 superintendent Terry Snyder is lucky his original projections were close.
If the decrease had been significantly more than anticipated, the school board could have ended up debating more layoffs in July. If the district ended up getting significantly more money than expected, it would have meant some of the layoffs agreed to in April had not been needed.
"I do not expect that level of closeness in the coming years," Snyder told school board members during a Monday work session. "I think we were very fortunate with our planning that we were in the ballpark."
Employee salaries will again be frozen this year, but the school board has decided to absorb the $89,000 in expenses that would have been passed on to employees after the state directed more money from paychecks go to the Wyoming Retirement System each month.
"My goal is that (employees) don't have a decrease in the amount of money they're taking home each month," Snyder said.
Next year, district employees will continue to be allowed "horizontal movement," which allows for pay increases for staff who've completed new education or special training.
The school board debated Monday whether to also allow for "step movement," which would allow pay increases for accumulated tenure. However, the board signaled its intent not to give such raises since Snyder warned the move would require dipping into the district's cash reserves. Plus, if the district opted to give raises now, school board chair Lynette Jeffres said it would be "a kick in the teeth to everyone who got (laid off)" this spring.
"If we're getting close to a right-sized budget for our (average daily membership) -- which we think we did this year - and we don't have the wheels fall off at the state level, my hope is that then we can give some salary increases in the future," Snyder said. "I don't like our history of (salary) freeze ... and I think it eventually catches up with staff and their morale."
After recalibration of the K-12 funding model gives a clearer picture of Riverton's future finances, Snyder said he's hopeful that raises might be a possibility next year if enrollment doesn't drop significantly.
"(The state) is figuring out what they think their cuts can be without them ending up in courts ... and I think they're awfully close to that." he said. "I don't necessarily expect catastrophe cuts."
Several school board members said that if the district isn't able to give raises in the near future, Riverton's schools are likely to lose many good teachers to other districts.
"We must remain competitive as we can for our kids," board member Sandy Barton said. "We have to maintain that competitive edge."
If school funding continues to decline over the next several years, Snyder likewise warned Wyoming schools as a whole are likely to lose the competitive edge concerning pay and compensation that draws people in from out-of-state.