Mar 16, 2017 - By Daniel Bendtsen, Staff WriterWhile continuing budget cuts means the Riverton school district is expecting to lay off some employees next month, that's not the case elsewhere in Fremont County.
Dave Barker, superintendent for Lander schools, said he's "very confident" that the cuts should be able to be made in his district without layoffs.
Hoping to absorb the cuts through attrition and line-item reductions, Barker said the school board has offered early retirement packages to employees.
Teachers who want to take that option will need inform the board this week, and Barker said staff will reassess their financial status after they know how many teachers are leaving.
Unlike many districts in the state, Lander saw an increase in enrollment this year, which will bring in some additional funds to help offset costs. The bigger decisions will come next year, when funding is cut in half for instructional facilitators, who act as a kind of coach for teaching techniques.
The state currently provides specific funds exclusively for instructional facilitators, but with the cuts, the new money will be provided as part of the block grants that districts get from the state.
"It actually helps us be more flexible with how we use that money," Barker said.
Lander currently has seven instructional facilitators, and Barker said the new leniency means the district won't inherently be required to layoff half those positions when the 2018 academic year rolls around.
Martha Gale, superintendent of the Dubois school district, said she plans to go without any instructional facilitators after the sole employee in that position retires this year.
Instead, Gale said teachers will pick up some of those duties and are currently being trained to be "teacher leaders."
In Shoshoni, two part-time instructional facilitators will now likely be back in the classroom for most of their work schedule, superintendent Bruce Thoren said. He says the instructional facilitator program has "had a lot of value" in his district, but having those educators in the classroom is also "an asset, because they're some of our top teachers."
Cutting instructional facilitators isn't as popular an idea in Riverton, where those jobs have become integral to the basic functioning of the school. Instructional facilitators have taken the responsibility in Riverton of coordinating educational interventions for students who fall behind in their coursework.
Unlike Lander, Dubois already has submitted a reduction-in-force letter, and Gale said employees are being asked to consider a 10 percent cut when filling out their "needs assessments."
The Lander school district keeps about 11 percent of its budget in cash reserves. Barker said the school board will want to see what happens after the state recalibrates its funding model this summer before even considering spending any of the district's reserves.
Thoren said his district is planning cuts to technology, food service, activities and classroom budgets. Because Shoshoni has "a fairly young staff," encouraging early retirement isn't "a big magic fix-it for us," Thoren said. Instead, his district is planning to charge fees for children to attend preschool there.
Carl Manning, who sits on the Riverton school board, said the most worrying issue is that with recalibration of the school funding model coming this summer, districts are aren't at the end of their cuts.
Many in statehouse have characterized schools as having financial comfort, so Manning said current struggles need to be communicated to legislators.
"At this point we're going over the edge, and we do start impacting programs," he said. "We are teetering."
As the districts continue to make cuts, Riverton superintendent Terry Snyder said it will be important that programs that "keep kids in school" stay intact.
"The easy cuts would be you get rid of art and music, (but) we believe that all these programs are important," he said. "If we make trims at all levels, we can still provide the level of education with minimal impact."
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