School district prepares to launch ‘Budget 101’ informational meetings

The sessions will be targeted toward the public and will each tackle a different element of the borough’s budget process

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is planning a series of community presentations aimed at demystifying the school district’s budget process and document. The one-hour work sessions will target the public and will each tackle a different element of the borough’s budget process.

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Finance Director Elizabeth Hayes told school board members during an Aug. 7 meeting of the board’s finance committee that, among the first topics the district would like to address are the State of Alaska foundation formula, in-kind budget contributions from the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the district’s fund balance.

One topic, Hayes said, would be addressed each month and may include others qualified to speak on the topic being discussed, such as borough staff about borough funding.

The first meeting, which Hayes said is tentatively planned for September, will cover the State of Alaska Foundation Formula. In the session, Hayes said she would cover how, for example, KPBSD enrollment data and the formula calculations affect the base student allocation. There will also be time for questions and answers.

“There’s a lot of different pieces in there,” she said.

Board member Jason Tauriainen, who represents Nikiski, said the district should have realistic expectations about the level of public engagement with the sessions. Topics such as the foundation formula, he said, are confusing, and what people really want to know is why the district asks for more money and where that money goes.

“It’s just so complicated,” he said. “Even after we explain it one time, they’re still not going to get it and they’re still going to ask the same question.”

School board Vice President Zen Kelly said he agreed that the topics should not be presented in a way that is confusing.

“It’s very important to just present it in a very simplistic way so that it can be digested and we can get past that first hurdle, which causes confusion,” Kelly said.

Board member Beverley Romanin said the goal of the presentations, unlike the school district’s budget meetings, are meant to be more of a learning experience. The real power of the presentations, she said, is in people being able to spread accurate information.

“For every one person that understands, they can explain it to two other people who then understand and it’s going to blossom,” Romanin said.

The budget series will come on the heels of a budget cycle that drew a lot of public attention and scrutiny. KPBSD was one of many school districts in the state that lobbied the Alaska Legislature for a meaningful increase to the base student allocation, or the amount of money that school districts receive per student.

Heading into the fiscal year 2024 budget cycle, KPBSD was faced with a $13.1 million deficit that it offset with money from savings, its remaining federal COVID-19 dollars and budget cuts. Proposed cuts to school pools and theaters prompted outcries from community members and students, who urged the district not to implement the cuts.

The Alaska Legislature approved one-time funding for school districts this year that allowed KPBSD to bring back the positions it cut, but district leaders were clear that they will be facing an even larger deficit next year, when that one-time funding goes away and there is no more COVID-19 relief money.

The district’s “Budget 101” series is scheduled to start in September, with one-hour presentations held as a public work session on days that the school board meets.

The school board’s finance committee meeting, as well as a schedule of when the board of education meets, can be found on KPBSD’s BoardDocs page.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at