With state budget approved, school district now faces $3-million deficit

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is projecting a deficit of $3 million for the upcoming school year, but that figure could have been significantly higher.

When state lawmakers agreed on a budget deal on Thursday, the $5,880 per-student base student allocation remained unchanged for the 2016 fiscal year.

Legislators debated a plan to cut up to 4.1 percent from the student base allocation formula, but cuts have since been reduced to 1.1 percent.

“It means we are not going to incur any additional spending deficit from our fund balance,” said Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones.

The final projected deficit is just less than $3 million, roughly half of the anticipated $4.2-6.1 million deficit, Jones said. The school district is still waiting on the exact number from the state.

Additionally, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted to fund the district to the maximum allowed amount under state law — meaning the school district will receive more than $48 million to help offset costs and stave off repercussions from future state-level budget cuts. After reductions to staffing and services, the Board of Education passed $165.6 million for the 2016 budget.

Had the fiscal year 2015 school district services been moved forward as is, the budget would have been $167 million. Cuts to existing programs and services totaled nearly $1.8 million. The pupil-teacher ratio was also increased.

If the worst-case scenario — a $6.1 million deficit — had been realized, going into the 2017 fiscal year “we would have used all our reserves and would be in the hole $772,460,” Jones said in a previous Clarion interview.

“While we did experience a reduction in funding from the state as compared to last year, our local legislators made sure the BSA (base student allocation) was fully funded and the borough provided significant support to help prepare for potential upcoming reductions from the state,” said Superintendent Sean Dusek.

The school district is expecting even less money from the state for the fiscal year 2017, Jones said. Administration plans to get as far ahead of the cuts as possible, he said.

Budget preparation does not normally start internally until October each year, and the first projections are brought to the public in January, Jones said. This year the process will start in July. The school board and school district will publicly discuss the next steps in meeting future fiscal challenges, Dusek said.