School budget cuts could affect custodians, others

This graph uses calculations based on a Feb. 6 Kenai Peninsula Borough School District budget presentation to show where the school district has made its $8.55 million in budget cuts since fiscal 2015. (Graphic by Vincent Nusunginya/Peninsula Clarion)

A rough sketch of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s budget for the coming year includes $2.48 million in cuts that administrators are recommending to offset anticipated funding that would otherwise leave the present district budget with a $2.79 million deficit.

Though state education funding — which constitutes roughly 64 percent of district revenue in the present fiscal 2017 budget — has yet to pass through the legislature, the present state spending proposal would send $79.22 million to the district, which is budgeted to spend $138.16 million this fiscal year. The deficit scenario assumes that the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s roughly 36 percent contribution to the school budget remains the same as last year’s $48.23 million.

The proposed cuts, presented by district Assistant Superintendents Dave Jones and John O’Brien at the district Board of Education’s Feb. 6 meeting, would still leave a $967,879 deficit to be filled from the district’s approximately $12.89 million fund balance reserve.

In addition to providing education, the school district is also the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s largest employer, with 1,217 employees on a $64.15 million payroll, according to a district communications department presentation.

Personnel expenses are the largest section of the school district’s spending — in fiscal 2017, employee salaries, benefits, and travel make up 81.9 percent of its budgeted $138.16 million expenditure. Since fiscal year 2015, employees have also taken the biggest share of cuts. Calculations based on a Feb. 6 presentation to school board members show that personnel measures such as hour or position reductions, salary and benefit reductions, and cut travel spending  have made up $6.95 million of the $8.55 million the school district has cut since fiscal 2015.

Of the savings measures administrators proposed at the Feb. 6 meeting, all but one — a $10,000 cut from extra curricular safety funds — involve staffing adjustments. Specific measures include $59,703 saved by eliminating one accounting specialist position and cutting two months of work time from another, $500,000 saved by cuts to custodian positions, and $624,302 saved by eliminating all but eight district English Language Learner (ELL) tutors, who provide English instruction to students learning it as a second language. The tutors who remain will serve the predominantly Russian-speaking villages of Nikolaevsk, Razdolna, Vozneskenka, and Kachemak Selo. Assistant superintendent Dave Jones said the $500,000 custodial cut is “a work in progress.” The amount, he said, is derived from the district’s formula that considers student numbers and square footage when assigning custodians to schools, and comes from changes in the number of the district’s students.

How the loss will be distributed through the workload of the district’s 94 full- and part-time custodians is still be be decided. 

“We plan on having a meeting with the head custodians and talking about ‘OK, if we have to reduce hours, what are things we can do less?’” Jones said. “We talked earlier about the potential of sweeping floors three nights a week instead of five nights a week.”

Patti Sirouis, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association — the union that represents school support staff such as custodians — said the measure concerned her.

“‘Clean’ is going to look different,” Sirouis said. “We’re down to the bare bones as it is. So I just don’t know how people could take on any more and keep it at the same level.”

Smaller schools in the district have only one custodian, Sirouis said. She gave as examples Cooper Landing School, whose custodian works four-hour days, and Moose Pass School, whose custodian works two hours.

“When you cut custodians, the buildings don’t shrink,” Sirouis said. “When they’re 22,000 square feet, they’re still 22,000 square feet. And they’re being used. We don’t close down rooms necessarily.”

School District spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff said some of the lost custodial funding cut could come from supply expenses as well as workers.

“It’s also important to note that with any reduction in workforce, first we look to normal attrition that occurs with retirement, unpaid leaves, and voluntary transfers,” Erkeneff wrote in an email.

 

The school district will hold public meetings about its fiscal 2018 budget plans on Feb. 14 at Seward High School, Feb. 15 at Soldotna High School, and Feb. 21 at Homer High School. All are at 5:30 p.m.

The Soldotna High School presentation will be broadcast via skype to the high school libraries of Kenai Central High School, Nikiski Middle-High School, Port Graham, Nanwalek, Susan B. English, and Tebughna schools.

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