School district faces $3.4 million budget deficit

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is facing a roughly $3.4 million deficit this year, but has a few options to close that gap.

The projected Fiscal Year 2019 revenue for the district’s general fund is $140 million, according to a presentation by Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones Tuesday night at Homer High School. The projected expenditures are roughly $143.5 million.

A deficit of more than $3.4 million remains, but the district has the ability to bring that down to just over $2 million, Jones said, if it uses one third of its unassigned fund balance, or $1,318,109. The issue of how to deal with that remaining $2 million was discussed among the handful of parents, district representatives and school administrators who attended the meeting. Jones prefaced the conversation about potential cuts in different areas of the district with a chart detailing the cuts that have been made over the last four fiscal years, which totaled $7.9 million. Those cuts over the last four years included reductions to custodial staff, pool costs and district office positions. There are 13 fewer staff members in the school district’s main office than there were four years ago, Jones said.

“Before we say, ‘What should we do?’ we want to review what we’ve done,” he said.

Jones then detailed a few of the options the district is looking at in order to close the gap between revenue and expenditures. They include increasing the pupil to teacher ratio (PTR) in high schools across the district, reducing funding for supplies or looking at the ways the district can “re-do” curriculum in ways that would save money.

Additionally, two district staff will retire this year, a member of administration and a support staff member, and Jones said the district will likely not replace those positions.

Increasing the PTR decreases the number of paid teacher positions in a school. The current PTR for high schools in the district is 1:25, though Jones said that the number of students in a given classroom is often lower. This is due to students taking courses at their local colleges and participating in internships, he said. Senior students also generally have fewer required classes by their final year, he said.

“Each fall when we do our class size report, we look at the actual number of students in classes across all of our schools,” Jones said. “When we look at our high schools, we’re staffed currently at 1:25, but you look at our classes in our high schools and most of them are under that.”

This is the justification behind the idea of raising the PTR at high schools across the district, Jones said. High schools will be looked at for the PTR increase first, followed by middle schools. The suggestion currently on the table is to increase the district’s high school PTR by two, which Jones said would result in a reduction of six and a half teaching positions.

Locally, increasing the PTR by two could result in the loss of one position at Homer High School, said Principal Douglas Waclawski during the meeting. This would likely result in the loss of a few elective classes since the school would have to make sure it was still providing, for example, enough sections of English for students. Zen Kelly and Mike Illg, the Homer area’s representatives on the School Board, were both present at the budget meeting. They echoed sentiments made by Jones that it’s not likely the state Legislature will increase funding to schools. A better strategy for parents who want to get involved, they said, is to lobby the Borough Assembly to fund the school district to the cap, or the maximum amount allowed.

It is common for the assembly to select a minimum funding amount they will pledge to the district by the assembly’s deadline, with the caveat that it might give more funding once it’s clear what kind of funding will come out of Juneau. Jones presented that, should the assembly vote to fund the district to the cap this year, that would cover the roughly $2 million needed to close the rest of the district’s deficit after using one third of the unassigned fund. The school board needs to pass a budget at their April meeting and forward it to the assembly.

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