School board passes their budget, discusses transition to remote learning

Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education unanimously passed their proposed fiscal year 2021 budget Monday night. However, it’s unclear how the global pandemic caused by the new coronavirus will impact the district’s bottom line.

In the weeks leading up to the passage of the district’s budget, the Kenai Peninsula Borough, which is the second biggest funder of the district behind the state, told district administration they intend to fund the district to the max at $52,776,437. However, Dave Jones, who is the acting superintendent for the district, said at Monday’s meeting that Mayor Charlie Pierce has notified the district that the borough “may not be able to support the amount they committed to.”

“We are going to continue to work with them on that,” Jones said.

Jones said Pierce and the borough are also showing concerns about the “viability” of a proposed bond package that would provide necessary repairs to school buildings across the peninsula. Jones said he will work to schedule a May work session on the proposed bond package.

Some budget uncertainties also emerged from the state Tuesday afternoon when Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a slew of vetoes to the Legislature’s budget. He said gaps caused by the majority of his vetoes will be filled with federal money and assistance resulting from the nation’s pandemic response.

At their Monday meeting, the school board passed a resolution to send a letter to Dunleavy asking him to not veto $30 million in one-time funding for school districts and more than $100 million in school bond debt reimbursement. Dunleavy vetoed both lines of funding.

Money from the state and the borough make up nearly all of the revenue the district receives — 99% — with the state funding about 62% and the borough funding 37%. The state uses a foundation formula of $5,930 per student to allocate costs for districts.

School began March 30 after an extended spring break, and students are in their second week of emergency remote learning. Dunleavy has mandated that all schools will remain closed until May 1, to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. If more closures are announced and the mandate extends into the fall, Jones said the district may be looking at equipment purchases to improve the district’s distance instruction.

Cameron Blackwell, a senior from Soldotna High and the student representative on the school board, said the transition from her brick and mortar school to emergency remote learning has been “smooth.” She said her senior year has been disappointing, however, with the cancellation of spring events and possibly her graduation.

“As disappointing as it is to miss spring activities, I think it’s important to remember staying healthy is a top priority,” Blackwell said.

As of Monday night, Jones said no staff or student has contracted COVID-19.

The district is continuing to feed students while schools are closed. At Monday’s meeting, Jones said 1,903 students in the district are signed up to receive free breakfast and lunch. On their busiest day, the district served more than 3,000 meals to 1,735 students across the Kenai Peninsula.

“We settled in and we’re moving forward,” Jones said.

The district’s budget will then get handed to the borough and added to the borough’s final FY21 budget.