District holds back after borough funding announced

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is one step closer to having a certain budget, but not a step in the direction the district had hoped.

On Tuesday night, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly committed at least $48.3 million to education for fiscal year 2018, which was a departure from the approximately $49.7 million Borough Mayor Mike Navarre originally requested.

“Well, we’re disappointed it was reduced from the mayor’s budget,” Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones said. “We’re now in the process of not being able to issue contracts or hire some folks until we have a better picture of where the state and the borough budgets will be.”

According to Jones, the district was ready to move forward with eight contracts to fill some of the 30 open positions in the district that have been advertised, but not filled due to budget uncertainty.

“We looked at some (of the positions) and said ‘OK, if (the borough budget) passes we’ll move forward with eight contracts.’ It didn’t happen and we didn’t move forward with eight contracts,” Jones said.

The district will continue to hold the positions until they are certain they can afford the salaries, he said.

“Unfortunately that means the quality of the people that will be available to hire at some point in the future won’t be as good as the quality of the people we could hire now,” Jones said.

The district passed a preliminary FY2018 budget in April that assumed status quo funding, but with a caveat that requested the borough fund the school district to the maximum allowed, about $51 million. The assembly’s decision, though, does not limit them to funding $48.3 million.

At Tuesday’s assembly meeting, Navarre said the assembly could choose to raise the funding at any time in the school year.

“While we have a lot of unknown and uncertainties, we were at least hoping for this type of security and financial backing as much as possible from the local level and the borough assembly,” Board of Education member Mike Iilg said.

Since 2006, district enrollment has dropped by 601 students but district costs continue to rise.

“The costs of doing business are continuing to go up and it’s beyond what the school board can control,” Iilg said. “The rising cost of health care is just killing us, killing our budget… and we’re seeing a steady increase in students with special services.”

Currently, the cost of providing education to an intensive special education student is counted as the equivalent of 13 students in Alaska’s Foundation Formula.

“Costs continue to go up, even though we’re seeing a lower enrollment,” Iilg said. “It’s not because we want more money or because we want to do more things. We’ve been cutting year after year.”

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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