Legislators restored a $50 increase to the base student allocation in the state’s operating budget approved Tuesday.
The action offset the decision made May 17 by a conference committee to eliminate an equivalent to the $66 million base student allocation increase, and secures more than $1 million budgeted by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District for the next school year.
“It allowed us to minimize our use of fund balance which will allow us to minimize negative impacts to the classroom,” said Sean Dusek, school district superintendent. “This increase will provide a smoother path on addressing overall budget reductions over the next few years as the state works to develop a long term fiscal plan.”
Gov. Bill Walker originally included the BSA increase, the last of three previously scheduled installments, in his proposed operating budget and it was in both the House and Senate’s budgets before it was cut last minute by the conference committee.
The loss for the school district would have been $900,000 directly from the state, and $200,000 in corresponding funds from the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, or nearly 10 full time teaching positions, said Marty Anderson, Board of Education member.
“We would have been very close to having consumed all of our fund balance,” he said. “The borough had options to fund to the cap (the maximum allowable local contribution), but I know there were a lot of reservations there as well.”
Contingency plans would have been discussed Monday at the next Board of Education meeting, said Pegge Erkeneff school district liaison.
“The district was waiting until the legislature made a final decision,” Erkeneff said. “This year, we had reserves in our fund balance to cover the unanticipated reduction in revenue from the state.”
Erkeneff said administrators had anticipated the BSA increase might not be included in this year’s budget.
In April, the board approved a $4 million reduction in school district services, including cutting nearly 12 full time certified teaching positions. Originally, administrators had proposed eliminating 25 full time teaching positions, but added 13.5 back in at the last minute because the BSA increase had made it through most of the legislative session intact.
“We were surprised at the end of the session by the conference committee’s actions,” Erkeneff said. “However, we appreciate there will not be a further reduction in education funding for FY17, since we have issued contracts and created a budget by the deadline required by statute.”
The committee’s decision was made without the option for public comment. Community members and school district staff immediately contacted legislators following the May 17 reduction, Erkeneff said.
No further increases are scheduled for upcoming school years, and administrators anticipate even further reductions to education funding in the next legislative session.
“That is a serious problem,” Anderson said. “… The school district has been as creative as possibly can. You can only cut costs so much.”
In the early 2000s, when Anderson was first seated on the board, the school district consolidated Nikiski Elementary and Nikiski North Start Elementary into one school, and did the same with Sears Elementary and Mountain View Elementary to offset a nearly $5 million fiscal gap created by declines in enrollment.
Anderson said closing and consolidating schools does not equal many cost savings, and even comes with additional costs such as busing the previous school’s students to the closest site. He hopes that won’t be an option reviewed in the future, he said.
With the way the state and federal funding formulas work, the school district only has control over 5-6 percent of an annual operating budget, Anderson said. Programs and positions are the only areas where reductions will make much of a difference, and there are only a few years left of significant fund balance use, he said.
“It’s always on all of our minds,” Anderson said. “We definitely don’t want to look in that direction.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at email@example.com.