School board enters budget discussions

The Board of Education has started 2017 fiscal year budget discussions.

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administration brought a development calendar before the board during the Aug. 5 worksession and stressed the need to improve operational and instructional efficiencies.

“Last year was the first year that state educational funding was reduced in many years,” said school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff. “We’ve heard that school districts can expect further and potentially larger cuts for fiscal year 2017, thus we’ve begun earlier than in the past with involving the school board in the budget calendar.

No action items were determined, said board member Sunni Hilts of Seldovia. The board and administration agreed one of the highest priorities will be involving the public this year, she said. The calendar includes meetings at selected schools on Oct. 15, to gauge community interest and opinion on where cost savings can be made, which was incredibly valuable last budget cycle, Hilts said. 

“We going to involve people as much as possible,” Hilts said.

Board member Dan Castimore of Soldotna said the reason for doing so is twofold. The public should be prepared and understand what is going to happen if cuts are made and it may “apply a little extra pressure to Juneau,” he said.

Castimore said he believes it is possible for the state to fund education to the level it has in recent years, but everything the school district is hearing is not to expect any additional funding.

The school district is completely dependent on the state and borough for funding, Castimore said. The board does not have the ability to find or establish additional sources of revenue.

All the school district can do is increase efficiencies, but that will likely not be enough this year, Castimore said. 

“We can increase efficiencies but at the end of the day it is likely to be staffing cuts,” Castimore said.

“The last two times we had to make reductions, we had to eliminate positions, which mean more students in the classroom. When (that is) 85 percent of your budget it is hard to find more money elsewhere,” he said.

Activity fees are one of the only ways the school district can earn money, but it never completely covers costs, Hilts said. This is not a concern unique to this district, but is true for school districts throughout Alaska.

“This is one year we should all be knowledgeable about what’s happening statewide, and that’s probably true for the next couple of years,” Hilts said.

With tightened funding, strengthening relationships with the community and organizational partnerships is essential to determine the best way to use what money is available, Hilts said. She also advised visiting Gov. Bill Walker’s website to learn and understand how the state funds education.

“It’s their money, their children, their state,” Hilts said. “We appreciate we are elected representatives, and we don’t take that responsibility lightly, but also need to have their input. We are nine people.”

The full Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Development Calendar is available on the school district’s website.

“We develop a budget calendar every year so our students, staff, parents, and community members know when we will meet and can participate in all parts of the budget discussion and process,” Erkeneff said. “We want to give everyone the opportunity to be fully informed and understand the investment that is made into each child and their future.”

 Kelly Sullivan is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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