District reinstates 7.5 teaching positions

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Board of Education has approved a revised Fiscal Year 2018 budget that reinstates 7.5 teaching positions, but administrators remain cautious due to the possibility of declining enrollment.

The preliminary budget passed in April was built on the expectation of status quo funding from the Legislature and the borough. To balance the budget, reductions to teaching and support staff were made across the district.

On June 29, the State of Alaska passed a budget that fully funds the Foundation Formula, which means the district’s FY18 revenue from the state will stay at about $79.2 million, as long as district enrollment does not dip.

The borough, on the other hand, has increased education funding by about $1.5 million, from $48.2 million to $49.7 million which has allowed the school district to reinstate 7.5 full time high school teaching positions that had previously been cut to help cover a budget defecit of $3.45 million.

“We’re fortunate to live in a borough that values education,” Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones said at Monday night’s Board of Education meeting. “It allowed us to hire teachers early, and allowed us to enter the 7.5 teaching positions back into the budget.”

Bringing back the 7.5 teaching positions will increase the expenditure budget by $750,000 to cover salaries and benefits, according to board documents.

“We had previous discussions at the board level that, if that happened, the closest thing to instruction would be added back and that’s why the teachers were added back,” Jones said.

The district’s general fund expenditures now stand at about $137.5 million for FY18. The number rises by $1.1 million when the district’s transfer to the Food Service fund is factored in.

With the added revenue, the district is anticipating a fund balance use of about $320,000 in comparison to the nearly $450,000 the board had approved in the preliminary budget.

“That’s less than the board had committed to,” Jones said. “But there is a large concern out there. We’re starting to get worried about our enrollment.”

According to Jones and Superintendent Sean Dusek, the enrollment numbers for the coming year are in question and, since state funding is directly impacted by enrollment due to the Foundation Formula, lower student numbers means less state funding.

“We keep hearing stories of U-Hauls traveling down the Alcan,” Jones said. “So, we’re starting to get a little worried about our enrollment.”

With this concern in mind, district administration is working to have a preliminary enrollment count before restoring any other reductions, Jones said, such as seven custodial positions which were cut in the FY18 budget.

“I know some of our schools in the Southern Peninsula lost some custodians and they have expressed some concerns to me,” Board of Education member Mile Illg said. “I like your approach in waiting to see what the enrollment looks like, but I’m hoping if we can keep an eye on what goes on in these buildings … because this is clearly a safety issue in my opinion.”

Currently the district has projected an enrollment for fiscal year 2018 at 8,781 students. The district was required to submit the 2018 projection numbers to the Department of Education and Early Development by November 2016.

In the meantime, the district is working on filling the open teaching positions as “best as we can,” Dusek said.

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

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