Zen Kelly, president of the board, speaks during a special meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s School Board in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Zen Kelly, president of the board, speaks during a special meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s School Board in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

School board directs KPBSD to begin restoring cut positions

The board had previously advanced and approved a budget based on “the worst-case scenario” of no additional funding for the state

Though Gov. Mike Dunleavy still hasn’t signed an operating budget that would increase state funding for schools, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Board of Education on Monday directed district staff to begin restoring cut positions under the understanding that the funding will be allowed to reach schools.

The board, facing a deficit of $13.7 million, had previously advanced and approved a budget based on “the worst-case scenario” of no additional funding for the state. That budget spells out increases the pupil-to-teacher ratio by one in most classrooms, cuts 10 days worked by support staff, cuts elementary school counselors, defers upgrades to curriculum and some equipment, cuts extracurricular travel, cuts stipends for assistant coaches and educational programs like Battle of the Books, and closes school pools and theaters.

Board President Zen Kelly said during a board work session that the board will formally consider a budget revision in their July 1 meeting, but the district’s administration needs a directive to proceed in hiring staff. He said there is funding in the operating budget expected to reach the district.

“What we have heard is that the governor is going to allow these monies to continue to school districts at this time,” he said.

The budget includes a one-time increase in funding per student that would see around $11 million to the district, as well as some of the funding the federal government had said the state owed the district — around $5.5 million, and other funding for transportation and Alaska Reads Act implementation.

Though “nothing is guaranteed” until the governor signs the budget, Kelly said assurances have been received that indicate the board is safe to proceed with posting positions and rehiring staff for the next school year — “this allows us to commit to people.”

The board informally directed the school district to begin that process, meaning that pool staff, theater staff, elementary school counselors and full-time positions that would have been cut with the increase in the ratio of students to teachers in each classroom can be posted, hired or restored.

They told the district to proceed as though under “Scenario Two,” referring to three scenarios presented earlier this year that described three different levels of state education funding — and three different levels of severity of cuts. That scenario, KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland said, “does cover all the humans involved.”

Cuts that remain in place until the funding is wholly secured include delayed spending on some school equipment, curriculum, and stipends for extracurriculars.

During the board’s regular meeting later that same day, Kenai Peninsula Educational Support Association President Susanna Litwiniak said that the change means that support staff can “exhale,” but lamented that they were left in a stressful situation, ending the school year without any assurance they would return next year.

Litwiniak said that for many classified staff, Monday’s change means they will be issued “personnel action forms” that define their days of work for the next school year and salary. Those are normally distributed by the end of the school year. For staff whose positions were not included in the budget, they were left waiting and uncertain.

During the meeting, the board acknowledged that even if all the funding does materialize, it is, like last year, only one-time funding.

“Unfortunately, that does mean that we’ll be back, advocating again for a more permanent change next year,” Kelly said.

A full recording of the meeting will be made available on the school board’s BoardDocs website.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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