Some school cuts certain; district waits for legislative budget action

The district expects to hear from the state Legislature about how much money it will get April 27, the last day of session, said Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Director of Finance Laurie Olson. 

The sooner the district hears back though, the better, as it has to wait to learn the actual revenue amount from the state before it can finalize the district budget and issue teacher contracts. Tenured teachers have received their contracts, but non-tenured teachers still are waiting to hear if they have a job next year and a long wait could push them to look outside the district for certainty.

“They’ve made a point to work on finances now, so we hope to hear sooner. Time will tell,” Olson said.

The district’s projected budget for 2017 currently plans for $138,327,760 in spending, according to a presentation at the district’s budget meeting at Homer High School on Feb. 23. The district expects to receive $138,043,466 from the state and borough, which leaves a relatively small deficit of $284,294. Once the budget is finalized, the school board can decide how to handle the deficit — one way would be to use the fund balance, Olson said. The fund balance is the district’s savings from prior years.

Since the projected revenue for 2017 is already less than the amount needed to operate the district at the same staffing levels, cuts are already in place. Full-time equivalent (FTE) positions will be cut at schools and in the district office.  That could mean one person losing a job or a few people receiving reductions in hours.

The district currently plans to cut 5.26 FTE positions at the district office, 25.65 FTE teachers, one FTE counselor and two FTE school administrators. Additionally, the district will cut $415,050 in supplies, travel and technology at the district office, $100,000 from the money designed as transfer to food service, and reduce estimated salary and benefits by $902,436, or 2 percent. These cuts will allow the district to meet the currently projected 2017 budget. 

Twelve teachers cost approximately one million dollars. Cutting after-school programs such as sports or DDF that are primarily paid for by parents and fundraised within the community would hardly make a dent, said Homer High School Principal Doug Waclawski. Though cutting teachers means raising the student-teacher ratio, the district still has smaller classroom sizes than other Alaska school districts, said Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education member Liz Downing in an email responding to questions about district budget cuts.

“Increasing class size is the last thing we want to do but I believe our teachers will rise to the challenge and administrators will do everything they can to make it work,” Downing said. “There are teaching strategies, amazing teachers and volunteers, and technology that contribute to making classroom learning not only more efficient, but more effective for our students. …  Students will have more, not fewer options to explore different subjects so that classroom time can be devoted to more of the ‘soft’ skills that employers say are critical for success — communication, self-management, collaboration.” 

Until the Legislature approves the state budget, the district does not know if the estimated revenue from the state will change. As a result of dropping oil prices, the state may have less money to give the district. 

Ninety percent of state revenue for education comes from oil and the state revenue estimated by the district for budget planning purposes assumed that crude oil prices would average at $67.49 per barrel between July 2015 and June 2016 with 500,000 barrels produced per day, said KPBSD Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Support Dave Jones at the Feb. 23 budget meeting. 

While barrel production has met expectations, the actual price of oil since June 2015 has been between approximately $32 and $47, leaving the district unsure about the amount of money the state will provide the district. If there is a drastic negative difference between projected and actual revenue received from the state, the district will have to look for further opportunities to cut down the budget, Jones said.

Homer schools are planning for cuts based on the projected budget, while hoping that the Legislature’s final budget does not end up causing more.

Homer High School

Homer High School is set to cut four FTE teachers for the 2016-2017 academic year, according to current budget predictions, said Homer High Principal Doug Waclawski. Math teacher Francie Roberts’ retirement this year removes one FTE teacher from the school, leaving only three FTE positions to cut. One of the five current special education resource teachers will be cut from the school, as the number of students with individual education plans (IEPs) is fewer than previous enrollment years. The school also plans to cut 1/2 FTE teacher for English, science and social studies — 1 1/2 FTE positions total — and then cut a couple of sections of physical education, fifth-hour guitar class and fifth-hour drama elective. The teachers from the cut courses will then be moved to fill the gaps left from the cut core class teachers. 

“It’s a whole game of putting the puzzle pieces together. We have to meet the graduation requirements,” Waclawski said.

The swing choir, which was rumored to be cut from the school’s curriculum next year, is safe under the current plans. The rumor was a result of a misunderstanding after a staff meeting, Waclawski said. 

“(Swing choir) is an important part of Homer High School and our students. I think that’s why they do so well, it’s not just math and science, it’s the extracurricular things,” he said.

Homer High School’s planned staffing cuts are a result of calculations by the district based on projected enrollment. This year the school has 20-30 fewer students than last year, which contributed to the decision on how many teachers could be cut.

“Nobody likes budget cuts but we’ll do the best we can. We’re going to have to get creative so we don’t have 40 kids in a class,” Waclawski said.

Homer Flex

Homer Flex is still waiting to hear from the school board about projected cuts, said Homer Flex Principal Christopher Brown. Due to Flex’s fluctuating student enrollment throughout the year and the nature of their program, the board usually keeps Flex staffed consistently. 

“We have a transient population and if we were funded the same way as other schools, we would have inaccurate staff numbers,” Brown said.

The decision for Flex was postponed until the next board meeting, which will be held March 7, Brown said.

Homer Middle

Homer Middle School does not have any planned cuts at the moment as a result of maintained enrollment, said Homer Middle School Principal Kari Dendurent. As of now, they meet the district’s requirements to stay at status quo. 

McNeil Canyon Elementary

McNeil Canyon Elementary is scheduled to lose 1 FTE teacher, which will increase their student-teacher ratio from 19.5:1 to 20.5:1, said McNeil Canyon Principal Pete Swanson. As a small elementary school with declining enrollment, they are hit twice as hard. Shifts at the school over the last couple years already have changed the school’s student-teacher ratio from 17.5:1 to 19.5:1. There is a chance the school will need to have more combined grade classes to cope with the staff loss. This year, there are two combined grade classes — a first- and second-grade class and a second- and third-grade class.

“Whenever you lose staff at a small school you have to think what you can and cannot do,” Swanson said.

Paul Banks Elementary

Paul Banks Elementary’s student-teacher ratio changed from 19.5:1 to 20.5:1 for first and second grades, said Paul Banks Elementary School Principal Eric Pederson. Kindergarten’s student-teacher ratio has not changed. If enrollment stays the same, the number of classroom teachers will remain the same as well, Pederson said. 

West Homer Elementary

West Homer is not slated to receive any cuts due to their increase in enrollment in the past year, said West Homer Elementary School Principal Raymond Marshall.

“We started this year above projections and gained a few along the way, so we will not feel any of those cuts because we have gained quantity of students,” Marshall said.

Fireweed Academy

Fireweed is losing a Title I interventionist, who works with specific students on math and language arts skills, and two FTE certified staff positions under the current budget projections, said Fireweed Principal Kiki Abrahamson. Additionally, the school will scale back the principal position.

“Our school will face the same kinds of cuts that everyone in the district will face,” Abrahamson said. “But Fireweed will be able to handle the cuts better because for 17 years Fireweed students were funded at 25 percent less than other students in the district, so we know how to tighten our belt and work with a smaller budget.”

Connections

The current budget projections plan for the overall Connections program to lose 1/2 FTE certified teacher, said Connections Principal Rich Bartolowitz. The effect the cuts will have on the Homer branch is currently unknown.

“As with all the cuts in the district, we are trying to keep the cuts away from the kids. We will do more with less and try to support families with their homeschooling choices,” Bartolowitz said.

Chapman School

At this time, Chapman is not experiencing any staffing cuts as a result of an increased projected enrollment of 12 kids, said Chapman School Principal Conrad Woodhead. Though they are not losing staffing numbers, the budget uncertainty does affect the school in another way. There is a chance that tenured teachers moved from a school with cuts to a school without cuts — like Chapman — could displace non-tenured teachers. 

“Our district does a good job to make sure that is the last resort,” Woodhead said.

The main concern is that non-tenured teachers waiting for contracts may look for greener pastures, Woodhead said. If the district is able to issue non-tenured teacher contracts sooner, there is less risk of losing staff.

“We potentially lose good people because they don’t want to wait to see if they have a job next year,” Woodhead said.

Anna Frost can be reached at anna.frost@homernews.com.


Want to help change things?

Parents and community members looking to get involved or have a voice in matters of change can:

• Participate in parent groups and site council meetings to offer suggestions.

• Ask their child’s teacher or principal what they need and how they can help. 

• Attend district meetings in their communities. 

• Connect and communicate through the district website: kpbsd.k12.ak.us

• Contact their legislators and voice their opinions

Homer Legislators

Senator Gary Stevens: senator.gary.stevens@akleg.gov

Representative Paul Seaton: representative.paul.seaton@akleg.gov

Legislative Information Office:

Homer: 907-235-7878


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