Public education supporters gather for a barbecue in the parking lot behind the George A. Navarre Borough Administration Building before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly’s meeting on Tuesday, May 1, 2018 in Soldotna, Alaska. Teachers, parents and school district administrators turned out in force to ask the assembly to increase funding to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District on Tuesday. The assembly agreed to at least provide as much funding as it did in fiscal year 2018, but with a deficit in the borough budget, the source of the funding is still unclear. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Public education supporters gather for a barbecue in the parking lot behind the George A. Navarre Borough Administration Building before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly’s meeting on Tuesday, May 1, 2018 in Soldotna, Alaska. Teachers, parents and school district administrators turned out in force to ask the assembly to increase funding to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District on Tuesday. The assembly agreed to at least provide as much funding as it did in fiscal year 2018, but with a deficit in the borough budget, the source of the funding is still unclear. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Assembly sets base funding for school district at $49.7M

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will get at least as much funding from the borough in fiscal year 2019 as it did this year.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly agreed to set the minimum local contribution for the school district at $49.7 million for the upcoming fiscal year at its Tuesday meeting, the same amount it budgeted in fiscal year 2018. The assembly could still increase the amount in the final budget, but it now cannot go below that amount as the members debate and amend line items for the next month.

Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce originally set the minimum funding for the school district at approximately $46.7 million, $3 million less than the borough contributed to the school district in fiscal year 2018. Assembly member Kelly Cooper amended the ordinance to boost the amount to $49.7 million.

Every year, the assembly has 30 days after the school district formally requests its funding to approve the base local contribution. That deadline fell Tuesday night this year. Approving the funding before the school year ends allows the school district to move forward with hiring teachers for the coming school year.

“We have deadlines for the (teacher) contracts, we don’t want to wait until the last day for the school period,” she said.

The budget was a battleground throughout the meeting, with education funding at the center of it. The borough’s general fund contribution to education — which includes school debt reimbursement, the local contribution amount, in-kind maintenance contribution and funding for Kenai Peninsula College — regularly consumes about two-thirds of the general fund spending. Last year, the assembly approved a budget increase for education with no new revenue to support it, pushing the borough into an approximately $4 million spending gap and drawing out of the fund balance.

To patch that gap without raising any taxes, Piece proposed cutting some spending in the borough government and withdrawing about $4.5 million out of the borough’s land trust fund to cover the rest and to increase funding for the school district. However, the assembly shot down the plan to use the land trust fund in a 6-3 vote Tuesday night.

In case the assembly chose not to use the land trust, Pierce proposed the $46.7 million for the school district so the borough wouldn’t have to spend out of its fund balance again. To protect its credit rating and emergency funds, among other functions, the borough keeps a $15 million fund balance minimum, which the assembly will brush against if it chooses to rely on the fund balance to level out the budget again.

“I think that part of the intent behind the $3 million below was so that we could have a discussion, the administration and the assembly, in the way of funding and where the money comes from,” he said. “Where the money comes from is very important to me, to the administration. … I would hope that the assembly, members that voted against (the land trust transfer) and the administration can work out a plan to fund education and take care of the general fund obligations that we have as well and not do it in the way of creating more deficit spending.”

Cooper said she disagreed with using the land trust fund because it is a temporary patch that does not fix the problem in the future. She and assembly member Hal Smalley sponsored an ordinance that would ask voters to raise the sales tax rate in the borough from 3 percent to 3.5 percent, bringing in about $5 million annually after the first year, which would go on the ballot this fall.

However, in case it doesn’t pass, she said she plans to amend the ordinance to include a .6 mill rate increase that would then be removed if the sales tax passes in the fall. The assembly can raise the mill rate without voter approval. To allow for extra time, the assembly postponed the sales tax ordinance to the May 15 meeting.

Dozens of people packed the assembly chairs Tuesday night to ask the assembly for more education funding, many of them teachers or parents. Cooper told the audience that they need to help the assembly sell the sales tax increase proposal to the public, as the sales tax is specifically dedicated to school funding.

“You trust me to do my job sitting in this seat and make the tough decisions,” she said. “My tough decision is being made with the one-year mill rate and the sales tax that’s coming at the meeting. And I trust you to help me get there. And everyone that I have spoken to since we started dealing with this deficit and accusing us of kicking it down the road … every single one of you, I can count on you to do that.”

The land trust debate may not be over, though. Assembly member Paul Fischer gave notice of reconsideration, which allows the assembly to consider taking the land trust appropriation up again at the May 15 meeting. Pierce said he hopes the members do, as the assembly’s plan for fixing the budget deficit isn’t clear.

“I’m concerned as to where you’re going to come up with this $3 million again this year,” he said. “If you come up with the $3 million, you’re still going to lay off some teachers. My plan doesn’t lay off any teachers … the real problem I have is there’s no guarantee in October. I want to work with you on a strong plan we can sell in October.”

Some assembly members said they wished the land trust plan had passed but had to support increasing the base funding for the school district because cutting it would require the district to freeze hiring immediately and possibly lay teachers off. Assembly member Kenn Carpenter said he understood the plight the school district was in but they should consider that if the assembly increases school funding without balancing the budget, then borough employees will be the ones to lose jobs.

Assembly President Wayne Ogle said he thought the land trust plan was a good one but that the assembly needed to provide the certainty to the school district of flat funding.

“We cannot have the uncertainty of not having a $3 million flat funding,” he said. “… I think we need to look at where the fund source is. I think there’s always a chance to revisit how we get that money. We would have had certainty if we had passed the other ordinance, but I think we need to provide that tonight.”

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Sean Dusek told the assembly that even with the $49.7 million, the school district will still have to eliminate 11.5 full-time teaching positions across the district. He thanked the assembly for approving the flat funding but would still advocate for increased funding in the future.

“We want to work together and we want to move forward together because we’re all in it together,” he said.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Nate Rochon cleans fish after dipnetting in the Kasilof River, on June 25, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
King closures continue; Kasilof dipnet opens Saturday

The early-run Kenai River king sport fishery remains closed, and fishing for kings of any size is prohibited

An "Al Gross for Congress" sign sits near the driveway to Gross’ home in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, after he announced plans to withdraw from the U.S. House race. Gross has given little explanation in two statements for why he is ending his campaign, and a woman who answered the door at the Gross home asked a reporter to leave the property. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Alaska judge rules Sweeney won’t advance to special election

JUNEAU — A state court judge ruled Friday that Alaska elections officials… Continue reading

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion 
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen listens to a presentation from Alaska Communications during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska.
ACS pilots fiber program in certain peninsula neighborhoods

The fiber to the home service will make available the fastest internet home speeds on the peninsula

Nurse Tracy Silta draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the walk-in clinic at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. COVID-19 vaccines for kids younger than 5 years old are now approved by both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
COVID shots for kids under 5 available at public health

Roughly 18 million kids nationwide will now be eligible to get their COVID vaccines.

Megan Mitchell, left, and Nick McCoy protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning of Roe v. Wade at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways on Friday, June 24, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Heartbroken’, ‘Betrayed’: Alaskans react to Roe decision

Supreme Court decision ends nearly 50 years of legally protected access to abortion

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)
Alaskans react to Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion.

Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/ Mark Thiessen)
Lawsuit says Sweeney should advance in Alaska US House race

The lawsuit says the fifth-place finisher in the special primary, Republican Tara Sweeney, should be put on the August special election ballot

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker stands in the Peninsula Clarion office on Friday, May 6, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska AFL-CIO endorses Walker, Murkowski, Peltola

The AFL-CIO is Alaska’s largest labor organization and has historically been one of its most powerful political groups

A portion of a draft letter from Jeffrey Clark is displayed as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Federal agents search Trump-era official’s home, subpoena GOP leaders

Authorities on Wednesday searched the Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark

Most Read