The energy industry downturn is sure to have ripple effects throughout many Wyoming communities. Campbell County School District was bracing for large enrollment declines even before this week’s layoffs of nearly 500 area coal workers.
The district’s business manager, Don Dihle, predicts a three percent drop in students next school year.
“We believe the true impact will be known based on the number of students who show up next August,” says Dihle. “At this point, I’ve projected approximately 250 fewer students will show up on the first day of school next year than showed up in the current year.”
Dihle projects about 6,000 students will leave schools statewide in the next two years. Fewer students generally means less state funding for a district. But Wyoming lawmakers have projected that enrollments statewide will actually increase in the years ahead.
Dihle says that means districts like his are facing a double-whammy—from dropping enrollment and $36 million in education cuts by lawmakers.
“When there’s a projection that the statewide assessed valuation is going to decrease by 20 percent—and seeing what historically happens in Wyoming—I think that just totally defies logic to say that enrollment is going to increase at the same time,” says Dihle.
His projections are based on enrollment declines amid an energy bust of 30 years ago.
Wyoming’s economy lost 6,500 jobs last year, mostly in oil and gas—a 2.2 percent drop.
Dihle says this week’s cuts are also likely to impact neighboring school districts, where laid-off coal workers may live.
“There are a lot of people in this part of Wyoming in this part of Wyoming—over the past several months, really—that are feeling very uncertain about their future and their livelihood,” says Dihle. “So we’re concerned for our school families.”