District facing budget, asks borough to fund to cap

Callie Giordano, a teacher at Mountain View Elementary, participated in a rally on Tuesday, May 2, 2017 at the corner of Swires Road and the Kenai Spur Highway to support fully funding education. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

Callie Giordano, a teacher at Mountain View Elementary, participated in a rally on Tuesday, May 2, 2017 at the corner of Swires Road and the Kenai Spur Highway to support fully funding education. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is facing a deficit for fiscal year 2019, and while state and borough funding has not yet been decided, administrators warn that this is the year the cuts could affect the classroom.

The district is facing a $2 million budget deficit this upcoming fiscal year, Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones said at Monday night’s school board meeting. Expenditures for FY19 amount to about $143.5 million.

The budget was prepared anticipating flat funding from the state, Jones said, which totals just under $89 million. Although there is some legislation in Juneau to increase funding, he said that likelihood of a bill passing and increasing funding at the state level is low.

At a local level, the district is asking that the Kenai Peninsula Borough allocate the maximum allowable funds, or fund to the cap at about $41 million, which would still leave a deficit — but one that the school board is comfortable covering with $1.3 million from reserve funds.

“If the borough would fund us to the cap and the board would use $1.3 million of fund balance, then we would have a balanced budget and we wouldn’t have to make any cuts,” Jones said. “The question, if the borough is going to do that, is a legitimate question.”

If the borough administration and assembly decide against funding to the cap — last year they funded at just about $2 million less than the cap — Jones said cuts will have to be made.

“The largest portion of what we’re going to have to do will come with PTR (pupil-teacher ratio) reductions in our school buildings,” Jones said. Administration has looked at reducing PTR by 11.5 full-time positions, which would amount to roughly $1,150,000. The reductions would be largest at the high school level, Jones said, and then work their way down to the lower levels.

Over the past four years, Jones said the district has made about $7.9 million in cuts, leaving little left to cut in nonpersonnel areas and administrative positions, making PTR reductions a necessity.

“All those (PTR) reductions wouldn’t quite get us there,” Jones said. “So we’d have to decide a couple thousand more.”

During a Tuesday joint worksession between district representatives and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce said increasing the funding to the school district over the fiscal year 2018 amount would tip the scales for a balanced fiscal year 2019 budget his administration is planning for the borough.

He has reiterated throughout budget season that the school district needs to draw out of its fund balance to help cover its budget.

“I believe it comes down to, at the end of the day, making a plan to where we stand in a status quo position what 2020 holds for us,” he said. “We’ve got a balanced budget put together for 2019, but I’m telling you, throw anything else in the pot, it takes it out of balance. It’s really easy.”

Dusek fired back that the school district has cut $10 million from its budget over the past five fiscal years and that asking the board and administration to cut any more risks the quality of public education available. The school district has used a large percentage of its fund balance to help make up those differences, he said.

“I understand where you’re coming from,” Dusek said. “Tight economic times. But all I’ve seen is a lot of kicking the can down the road at the state level. We need a plan, and we want to help you with the plan and we want to be involved with that. That’s where we’d like to head in this together.”

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com. Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com

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