GILLETTE — The Campbell County School District is losing nearly $1 million a year through its school lunch program, something that’s not unique in Wyoming.
Deputy Superintendent Kirby Eisenhauer told trustees recently that of the lunch programs operated in 47 of the state’s 48 school districts, all are losing money. The losses are paid out of the districts’ general funds or monies that could go to classrooms and teachers.
This past week, the local school district’s audit report sparked discussion that noted the district lost about $900,000 with its food service in 2018-19. That’s down from $912,000 in 2017-18 and $934,000 in 2016-17, said Paula Steiger of Bennett, Weber & Hermstad, certified public accountants who prepared the audit report.
The annual loss is becoming stable and slowly decreasing each year, she said.
To deal with the perpetual loss and other enterprise fund losses, the district transferred $1.6 million this past year. It also received $1.8 million from intergovernmental grants for the food program and ended the year about $740,000 in the black.
Still, the losses over the past three years amount to more than $2.7 million for the Campbell County School District.
“The money that’s being utilized to subsidize the lunch program. I think this is probably something that everyone needs to be aware of,” trustee chairwoman Anne Ochs said. “That comes directly out from our general fund. That is money that we would be utilizing to fund teachers and classrooms.
“I don’t believe there is a byline item from the state in that basket of goods for lunch programs. So this is like an unfunded thing that the district is just picking up out of classroom costs.”
As long as the school district is going to offer a school lunch and breakfast program, it’s always going to require subsidizing by the district, she said.
“There’s nothing we can do about it, but we need to all be aware of it and our community needs to be aware of it also,” Ochs said.
“And we are not unique in that,” added Shelly Haney, the district’s budget manager.
“When we went through recalibration, there was only one of the 48 school districts that was in the black,” Eisenhauer said. “And it was a smaller (district). … So that was definitely an issue. Districts have to pony up to feed their kids out of the general fund.”
Food is a critical issue, Ochs said. It’s not a service school districts can’t offer, she added.
“So, it’s just something we all need to kind of keep in mind when we talk about summer programs and feeding kids for summer. You know, we do that too and we need to.”
Ochs said it’s one of the things she hopes the Legislature will be aware of when it starts recalibration, which is one of the issues interim committees brought forward this past summer and will likely discuss in Wyoming’s upcoming legislative session starting Feb. 10.
Wyoming’s recapture funding formula to pay for its public schools should undergo recalibration once every five years or so, according to Wyoming Supreme Court rulings.
Legislators failed to accept most of the recommendations from the last recalibration study and report in 2015. That nearly yearlong study, which lawmakers had hoped would trim education funding in another tight budget year, instead included some recommendations to consider unpopular moves, such as consolidating school districts to cut costs.