The Natrona County School District has been preparing for the Legislature's proposed budget cuts, its superintendent said Tuesday.

"We recognize that the economy in Wyoming is challenging at this point in time," Steve Hopkins said.

"We know the Legislature has less money to work with," Hopkins said. "We've been preparing for well over a year to get ready to have a budget that's less than what we currently operate on today, just in anticipation of this potential that the Legislature feels the need to reduce our funding."

Last week, the Joint Appropriations Committee recommended a cut in statewide school funding by 1 percent for operations for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, and a 2 percent reduction for the year after that. Projected reductions in funding for the following biennium may be much larger than that, Hopkins said.

The district has been preparing by not filling 13 vacancies in the central office, he said. Those vacancies are saving the district about $1.3 million a year. The district may need to fill some of them in the future, he added.

The central office will absorb the losses for the time being, but how the proposed cuts will affect the community and students beyond these vacancies remain to be seen, he said.

"Right now we're just beginning the budget development process," Hopkins said. "We don't get too deep into it until we know what the funding's going to look like."

The district's operational budget is about $188 million a year. So the JAC's 1 percent recommendation would trim about $1.9 million from that amount, Hopkins said.

Of that amount, about 30 percent is funded from local property taxes, and the rest comes from the state, he said. (In Natrona County, property owners pay 12 mills to the State School Foundation Program, and 31 mills to the school and operating levies, according to the Natrona County Assessor.) The money that goes to the foundation is redistributed to all the school districts in the state.

The operations budget is separate from the capital construction budget, and those funds cannot be mixed. The money for the construction of the schools in the district is already in the bank, Hopkins said.

The 20-day budget session begins Feb. 8. District officials will be meeting with legislators from Natrona County over the next two weeks to talk about the education budget, he said.

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