School board signs off on budget

The Board of Education on Monday passed the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s $165.6 million fiscal year 2016 operating budget.

The board discussed the final revisions proposed by Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones during a worksession Monday. The process began in October 2014.

Included in the conversation was the recent amendment made to the state operating budget by the Senate on April 2 that would reduce the foundation formula, which is used to determine funding for school districts, by 4.1 percent.

The amendment cuts more than $4.2 million in state funding to the district and reduces the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s maximum local contribution by nearly $1 million, according to a April 3 school district press release. 

Those changes are in addition to Gov. Bill Walker’s proposal to cut one-time statewide funding to eduction, passed by last year’s Legislature. 

That results in the potential loss of $8 million to the district, which translates to more than 100 school district positions, according to the release.

“We can only spend what we are given,” said board member Lynn Hohl. “We can’t make money here. It’s serious.”

The FY16 budget does not contain any proposed non-tenured contract cuts, said school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff. The reduction of positions with the secondary level pupil-teacher ratio change was absorbed through resignations and retirements, she said.

“Based upon what transpires with legislative actions and potential unanticipated funding reductions for fiscal year 2016, the district may decide to fill open positions on a case-by-case basis,” Erkeneff said. “Currently more than 30 positions are posted online and open.”

The pupil:teacher ratio at the secondary level, grades 7-12, will increase, but educators will be shifted around, not let go, she said.

The school board also discussed the fact that the state and borough budgets have not been finalized.

Borough Mayor Mike Navarre told the school board he did not expect proposed cuts to education to be as drastic as they currently appear.

“If you try to react to every move that’s being made in Juneau right now you are going to get lost,” Navarre said.

The Kenai Peninsula will feel impacts from state cuts, Navarre said.

At this point, Navarre said he is unable to estimate how much the assembly is considering contributing to education. If the members decide to fund to the cap it means the borough will have to increase taxes in the future, “maybe not this year, but soon,” he said.

Jones said if the school board did not make recommended reductions, the “fiscal cliff” will be much steeper next year, and more dramatic cuts will have to be made.

Superintendent Sean Dusek said that smaller cuts now would allow the school district another 12 months to engage parents and educators within the Kenai Peninsula community and come up with a long term plan for designing the budget in upcoming years.

Built into the budget is a decrease in general funds used for state tournament travel costs, utility budgets, consolidating positions, efficiencies in pool operations district-wide and changing the pupil;teacher ratio.

Hohl said she would rather “put things in than take things out,” and would prefer to have waited on passing the school district budget until the state’s is finalized.

“We have a basic building block with which to move forward,” said board president Joe Arness following approval of the budget.

Kelly Sullivan is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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