Assembly approves additional district funding

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting was dominated by education funding Tuesday night, with the assembly passing an ordinance to increase fiscal year 2019 funds to the district and a resolution to set the base level of funding for the FY20 school district budget.

The assembly approved a resolution to increase the district’s FY19 budget by $2,423,955 in an effort to retain some of the district’s non-tenured teachers.

After the joint assembly and school board meeting on March 5, Superintendent Sean Dusek submitted a letter to the assembly asking to fund the school district for 2019 to the maximum amount allowable at this time, $2,423,955.

The resolution passed after a five to four “yes” vote, with Assembly members Dale Bagley, Kelly Cooper, Willy Dunne, Brent Hibbert and Hal Smalley voting “yes,” and approved the supplemental funding, allowing the district to retain non-tenured staff and provide a cushion for potential state funding reductions.

“I’m going to hedge on the future,” Cooper said. “I’m going to draw a line in the sand and say this is what it takes to provide a constitutionally mandated education for this community … We are asking to do this supplemental funding now, for 2019, because the state may go into an emergency session. (The district) may not have the information and we need to get those contracts out.”

Tuesday night’s crowd was vocally in support of education, with cheers and applause after the ordinance was passed. Many of the public comments asked the borough to fully fund education as the district faces a $22.4 million dollar reduction in state funding under Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed FY20 budget, should that budget go through unchanged by legislators.

Several members of the public and assembly recognized that Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce could veto the ordinance.

“I would feel a whole lot better if I could hear the mayor say he wasn’t going to be vetoing the ordinance we just passed,” Cooper said, with no response from Pierce.

After the assembly passed the additional funding for FY19, the assembly also approved Pierce’s proposed borough contribution to the district in FY20 at $47.3 million. Pierce’s proposal is short of the district’s request of funding to the cap at $52.5 million. It’s also $2.4 million less than last year’s borough contribution.

“I can’t support this (resolution) the way it is,” Seward resident David Paperman told the assembly. “It should be brought back up to the full cap of allowed spending … Your time is valuable, our time is valuable. I don’t think you need to be hearing these speeches over and over again next April. I would ask that someone amend it and pass it to the maximum amount tonight.”

The resolution passed, seven to two, and sets the floor for what the borough will provide the district at $47.3 million.

“I am not at all pleased with the minimum number,” said Dunne, who voted “no” on the resolution. “I will be arguing for additional funding for schools, but that will come at a later date of our budget process … Even though this will pass tonight, that doesn’t mean that the funding is set at that low number, it’s just a minimum amount.”

Although borough funding was the issue of the night, state budget cuts loomed over all discussion. Dunleavy’s amended FY20 budget proposes a $22.4 million dollar reduction in state funding to the KPBSD, leaving a lot of uncertainty as the school district attempts to finalize their budget for next school year.

“The problem I see is not here in the borough, but down in Juneau where we have a system that is really not functional,” said assembly member Wayne Ogle. “With the uncertainties that the Legislature provides the school district in the education process, (the district is) not able to make decisions. We’re in a really reprehensible situation where we are faced with draconian cuts in the budget, the governor’s budget, that we have to deal with in one legislative cycle, 90 days … That is very gut wrenching.”