District begins future budget development with public input

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is already breaking ground on their upcoming budget development — and is getting the community involved.

Superintendent Sean Dusek and Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones spoke to schools across the district via a live teleconference Tuesday evening. The meeting was open to staff, parents and anyone in the public interested in getting involved.

Dusek and Jones outlined how the district budget works, budget development processes and areas of financial concern.

The district has two major sources of revenue coming from the borough and the state. Jones said in the fiscal year 2018, the district received 35.75 percent of their revenue from the borough and 63.24 percent from the state. The rest of the revenue, just over 1 percent, comes from federal sources and other means. Enrollment has been consistently declining since 2010, Dusek said during the video presentation.

“Enrollment is the cornerstone of funding for our budget,” he said.

As of Oct. 1, the district serves approximately 8,644 students, not counting part-time students. With fewer students enrolled, the district could receive less funding from the state in the future.

Dusek said the district is noticing more and more students choosing to be home-schooled, either through the district’s Connections program or through other statewide programs. Students enrolled in statewide programs, like Galena-based program Interior Distance Education of Alaska, are not counted in district enrollment numbers.

On Tuesday night inside the Kenai Central High School library, parents, teachers and other school staff watched the live video of Dusek and Jones. After the presentation, the group discussed ideas and possible solutions to the district’s enrollment and revenue issues.

During the discussion, members of the group expressed concern that students who choose to take advantage of statewide distance-learning education programs may be one reason the district is seeing a decline in enrollment. Other factors brought up as reasons for declining enrollments were the local economy and the closure and suspension of area projects and industry. The group suggested a potential policy that would require students to enroll in their area’s home-school program, which would be the district’s Connections program for peninsula students. The idea for the policy is the district wouldn’t lose any student headcount to out-of-area programs.

Other ideas from the group included revisiting a tax increase initiative that failed to get off the ground earlier this summer. The increase would bring the general borough sales tax, which is dedicated to supporting the school district, from 3 percent to 3.5 percent. Parents and teachers at the Kenai site council said marketing the increase as a way to support student activities like sports, might be the key to winning over voters who would generally oppose a tax increase.

Parents and staff at the site council agreed the district couldn’t afford to lose activities and sports programs. Kenai Central principal Alan Fields, who facilitated the site council discussion, said potential cuts to these programs would only increase issues with district funding and enrollment.

“I think graduation rates would go down and people would actually move,” Fields said.

Some members of the site council said it’s time for the district to dip further into their savings account. Another group member suggested Costco come to the peninsula, which would provide jobs and drive more families to the area.

One parent asked how the borough could market the Kenai Peninsula as a place to live.

“For people who work remotely, if you could work anywhere in the world, why not work here?” The parent said to the group.

Dusek said the district has begun the process with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Education Board and borough administration towards creating a budget for the fiscal year 2020. He also said there will be many more opportunities in the coming months for the public to weigh in on the budget.