The Board of Education’s top priority this year is to develop strategies to counter economic realities.
Drafted plans are outlined in the 2015-2016 board goals, which the board identifies and approves annually.
“Keeping the (school) district running depends on fiscal stability. (This year) we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said board member Sunni Hilts. “We were basically blind-sided last year.”
Hilts called the sharp decline in the price of oil, and subsequent budget cuts, “a wake-up call” for the board.
Board member Liz Downing said the lack of revenue for next year’s budget is a concern statewide. Each department in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will contribute input to come up with a balanced budget during this cycle, she said.
“That is what we are going to start focusing on, is what the options are,” Downing said.
Staffing is a subject likely to come up in future budget considerations, Hilts said. The formula that determines the pupil-teacher ratio for different schools could potentially use reworking, she said.
“We have to understand implications of cutting,” Hilts said. “If push comes to shove, we have to know where we are going to make cuts.”
Raising the ratio in larger schools, or lowering the ratio in smaller schools may minimize negative impacts on instruction, Hilts said.
Small schools, for example, have less leeway, Hilts said. It may not be an option to reduce staffing in a classroom where the teacher is instructing multiple grades or on multiple topics, she said.
Superintendent Sean Dusek will work directly with the board to flesh out a review of instructional needs, revenue options, work with the Alaska State Legislature and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, and to develop “what if” scenarios for what the school district may be faced with.
“I don’t have an example of what that would look like right now,” Dusek said. “Those won’t likely be available until November. Community input and the governor’s (Gov. Bill Walker) budget will better inform the start of the ‘what if’ development.”
Dusek said an integral part of the process will be further enhancing partnerships with local organizations to determine where available funding will be best utilized.
The series of public forums on pool use held by Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones gleaned critical information from the public, for example, Hilts said.
Hilts said before the meetings she hadn’t been aware different user groups wanted access to pools with warmer temperatures, but said “it makes sense.”
Right now all of the school district-owned pools are operating differently, Hilts said. The meetings were held to find alternatives for how to maximize efficiencies of the facilities, while utilizing and aligning with board goals to include the community and improve the budget, she said.
“Those goals are very critical to us… it’s not an amorphous idea… it is a very active part of the planning process,” said board member Sunni Hilts.
Dusek said there is a sense of urgency in fleshing out the board’s top goal this year.
“When you are deficit spending that’s just not sustainable,” Dusek said.
Quarterly board worksessions, site council reports and community meetings will be scheduled to gauge input on how to prioritize funding for the 2016-2017 budget, he said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.