District begins work on budget

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is starting the budget process four months early for the 2016-2017 school year.

Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones is asking program directors to begin reviewing department expenditures and potential internal cuts.

The concern is how those reductions may translate to education in the classroom, said school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff. Cuts will likely need to be made in the areas of salaries and benefits, she said.

“There is not room in the budget for only cutting smaller operational costs,” Erkeneff said. “These can add up, but not to $6 million.”

The Board of Education was able to renew all existing tenured and non-tenured contracts for the upcoming year, Erkeneff said.

However, the pupil-teacher ratio was raised by .5 to 1:25 at the secondary level, which saved $350,000, according to a March 31 budget report submitted by Jones.

That increase translates to a reduction in elective classes offered at the high schools, Jones said in a previous Clarion interview.

Class sizes grew in some elementary school classrooms, which saved $250,000, according to the March 31 report.

Board member Sunni Hilts of Seldovia doesn’t see starting the process now as unusual. The board often starts making budgetary decisions in August, she said.

Long-range planning discussions between the board and school district administration started in June, Hilts said.

“They are working immediately to provide us context so we can make good decisions,” Hilts said. “It’s early but it’s necessary.”

Hilts said the board wants to know what potential cuts may be made, and where the fund balance will sit depending on those cuts.

“We need a reworked idea,” Hilts said.

Future budget discussions will likely include health insurance and outstanding lease agreements, and updates on school district negotiations with the Kenai Peninsula Education Association and the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association, Hilts said.

“We want to see what choices we have, which are getting limited,” Hilts said.

This year the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly chose to fund the school district the maximum allowable contribution, but the board did not know ahead of time, Hilts said. Decisions will be made again this year without knowing how much the borough will offer, she said.

There are no certainties on how much the state will cut educational funding during the 2016 legislative session, but “we are hearing from Juneau that we can expect less funding,” Erkeneff said.

At the same time, administration is continuing to look at raising pool fees, Erkeneff said.

Right now, the administration is uncertain if revenue from increasing fees would make a dent in next year’s deficit, Erkeneff said. It’s also unknown if the number of people using the facilities will drop significantly enough to negate the goal of raising fees, she said.

“It will be an ongoing analysis throughout the year and we will bring it to the board before we make changes,” Erkeneff said.

Once the school district finishes looking at budget options internally, community meetings that involve the board will begin, Erkeneff said. Last year’s were well attended, but she said she hopes to see more people turn out to the forums, which will focus on explaining the logistics of funding education, she said.

Kelly Sullivan is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. She can be reached at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.