GILLETTE — For the first time ever, Campbell County School District will not be a recapture district.
Every year since the 1983-84 school year, it has sent millions of dollars in payments to the state to help pay for education in other counties — to the tune of almost $1 billion, which it has done since the state Supreme Court equalized school funding.
Instead, the county will be a recipient of the state’s redistributed payments, making Campbell County an entitlement district in the eyes of the state.
After more than 35 years, the county has paid more than $962,489,017 to the state, so the sudden necessity for the county to receive money is a significant change for both the county and the state.
The district presented its preliminary budget for the 2021-22 school year to the board of trustees Tuesday night, and the $137.4 million general fund amount had a large decrease in local and county revenues and a large increase in the state revenues to make up the difference.
Local revenue equaled $88.4 million, which represented more than $25 million, or almost 23-percent, less than last year’s local revenue total of more than $113 million. County revenue contributed more than $22 million to the general fund, but that number was down more than $6 million, or more than 21 percent, from last year’s total of more than $28 million.
The state revenue increased a whopping 2,222 percent, up from a little more than $1 million to more than $26.5 million.
The abrupt shift from being a recapture district, which contributes excess funds to the state to assist in providing equitable education across the state, to becoming an entitlement district, which receives funds necessary to provide an equitable education, is expected due to the estimated valuation for Campbell County in 2021-22.
The budget was created with an estimated valuation of $3.2 billion, which is down from the 2020-21 valuation of $4.2 billion. Recent budget meetings for the county have suggested that the assessed valuation may be closer to $3.4 billion, but it’s unlikely that such a change would move the district back to a recapture district, said Shelly Haney, the district’s finance manager. Haney said the county will announce the approved valuation at the end of June, and the school trustees would be considering a finalized budget by mid-July.
“I just can’t believe it,” said school board Chairwoman Anne Ochs. “It’s just a sign of the times we’re going through.”
Ochs pointed out that Wyoming’s educational funding model isn’t necessarily a common one, where the districts all funnel their money to the state and then the state disperses the money as needed to provide an equitable education. That is particularly helpful to smaller districts where the cost of education per student is much higher than in larger districts, which benefit from an economy of scale.
“It’s very good for Wyoming but a little tough on Campbell County,” Ochs said.
The state’s school funding model connects districts across the state, since so much is dependent upon those wealthier districts to provide funding for many of the others. The nearly $1 billion paid by Campbell County has firmly established it as an integral part of the state’s education funding, but it’s not alone.
In 2020-21, the state’s recapture district’s were Campbell #1, Converse #1, Converse #2, Lincoln#2, Sublette #1, Sublette #9 and Teton #1. Ochs said that other districts are similarly preparing their preliminary budgets, so it’s not entirely clear which districts will be recapture districts in 2021-22.
“The thing that hits me the biggest is that Campbell County has always been a recapture district,” Haney said. “That’s a big hit to the state as a whole, not just the county.”
Overall, the district’s total budget was more than $236 million. A portion of the special revenue funds comes from grants, and 2021-22 will see a significant increase in those grant funds due to Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSR) funds that came to the district as a part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act from the federal government, said Dennis Holmes, the district’s associate superintendent for instructional support.
The grants amount will top $35 million, which is $20 million, or 135%, more than last year. The major capital funds also took a large hit in the 2021-22 budget. The amount is roughly $516,000, which represents an almost $2 million, or 78%, decrease from last year’s budget.
The district itself made more than $4 million in budget cuts in recent months, and all of this is coming on the heels of the Wyoming Legislature’s failure to reach an agreement to overhaul education spending going forward, despite a roughly $300 million revenue shortfall.