Board of Education tackles school lunches, worries about legislature

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is taking small steps to prepare for the upcoming school year while administrators continue the wait to find out what the Fiscal Year 2018 revenue will look like.

At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, the board voted to increase lunch prices, adopt a strategic plan for 2017 to 2022 and to send a letter to the Alaska Legislature, urging them to pass a budget.

The most tangible of the changes will take effect this coming school year, with school meal prices increasing across the district. The meal price for student breakfast will increase from $1.75 to $2 and adult breakfast will increase from $2.50 to $3.

Elementary lunches will increase from $2.85 to $3 and secondary school lunches will increase from $3.35 to $3.50. Adult lunches will increase from $4.25 to $4.50. Additionally, the price of milk will be increased from 60 cents to 75 cents.

Elementary and secondary lunches both include milk in the overall meal price, but adult lunches do not.

According to board documents, the increase is estimated to bring in an additional $34,600 in revenue, which will be used to reduce the $1.2 million budgeted towards the Student Nutrition Services.

Although the resolution passed unanimously, Board Member Dan Castimore expressed concern.

“If we’re going to make changes, I’d rather it be a more significant change,” Castimore said during the meeting. “I’d be more happy to support a dollar increase to be honest with you.”

In comparison to the other five big school districts in the state, KPBSD has, and will continue to have, the lowest meal prices. An elementary school lunch ranges in price from $3.50 in Fairbanks to $4.25 in Juneau.

“When you compare where we’re at with other districts, it’s clear that we’re under them,” Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones said at the meeting. “It’s been a project to get Student Nutrition Services deficit down and this is one of the many ways we’re trying to do it, $30,000 to $40,000 is a significant amount to try and reduce it.”

Looking at the long-term, the board approved the 2017 to 2022 Kenai Peninsula Borough School District strategic plan which sets the district’s mission to “empower all learners to positively shape their future.”

But, with regard to the immediate future, the district is still left questioning what their FY18 funding will be.

During a work session before Monday night’s meeting, Superintendent Sean Dusek asked for the board’s support in filling about 10 positions of the 30 positions that are being held in anticipation of budget cuts.

“We have this hiring freeze but there are 10 to 12 positions I would really like to hire,” Dusek said. “I know there is ambiguity about what is going on…but in the end, what it all could mean is that I may be coming to you in July saying that instead of that $1.1 million (from general fund balances) you offered, I need $2.1 million, and that’s in order for us to hire now.”

Dusek said he would not approve the hires until next week, but would like to do it as soon as possible. The district would still leave about 20 positions open until the final amount of FY18 revenue is set.

If the district does need to increase the use of the general fund balance come July, it would accelerate the decline of the general fund savings, Jones said.

“Instead of having three years to spend that $3.3 million, we would have two years,” Jones said, “… but even the finance guy thinks that’s something that we need to do for our instruction side of the house.”

The hiring discussion was interspersed with comments of frustration over the budgetary uncertainty and the Legislature’s inability to compromise on a state budget.

“I don’t want to sound like a whiner, but boy, have they put us in a box,” Dusek said.

Although no formal action was taken, several board members showed support for the hiring.

“I say do it,” Board of Education President Joe Arness said during the work session.

Board Member Lynn Hohl then suggested the board draft a letter to the Legislature, urging them to decide on a budget and restating the importance of approving a comprehensive long-term fiscal plan. The motion was approved at the meeting later that night.

“I think that it’s been months and months and months that we’ve been waiting for this Legislature to create this budget and we still don’t have one,” Board Member Dan Castimore said at the board meeting. “It’s having an impact on us doing what we’re supposed to do. Whatever the budget is, we need a budget. This is impacting all of us and it’s starting to really hurt us.”

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