From left: Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education member Penny Vadla; Assistant Superintendent Kari Dendurent; Board members Jason Tauriainen and Matt Morse; and student representative Ashley Dahlman participate in a board meeting on Monday, April 11, 2023 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

From left: Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education member Penny Vadla; Assistant Superintendent Kari Dendurent; Board members Jason Tauriainen and Matt Morse; and student representative Ashley Dahlman participate in a board meeting on Monday, April 11, 2023 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

School board sends KPBSD budget, with cuts, to borough assembly

Among the cuts put forth were the elimination of theater technicians and pool supervisors

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education approved the district’s preliminary budget for the upcoming fiscal year during their Monday night meeting. The document now goes to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

The document approved by board members Monday presents a balanced budget from the district, with about $135 million in general fund revenues and expenditures described. Heading into the current budget cycle, the district was faced with a $13.1 million anticipated deficit caused in part by a reduction in state spending.

To help fill the gap, the school board agreed to use the rest of KPBSD’s federal COVID-19 relief funds, to draw $820,000 from savings and to propose additional budget cuts. Among the cuts put forth by the board’s finance committee were the elimination of theater technicians and pool supervisors, bumps to schools’ student-to-teacher ratio and the cut of extracurricular travel funds.

Those cuts prompted outcries from community members and students, who shared passionate testimony at the board’s March 7 meeting urging the district not to implement the cuts. In return, board members said the cuts were chosen because they would be the easiest to add back into the budget if state lawmakers approve an increase to school funding this session.

The document describes a 15% reduction — about $1.1 million — in funding in the district’s “support staff” category from the amount of money allocated for that category in the current fiscal year. District support staff include pool managers and technicians — a cut that drew ardent opposition from community members around the peninsula earlier this year.

The preliminary budget approved Monday also assumes full funding from the Kenai Peninsula Borough at about $54.8 million, which includes about $12.8 million in-kind services and about $41.9 million in appropriations. That is the maximum amount the borough could contribute to the district for the upcoming school year and is about $2.2 million more than last year.

The amount of money the borough can contribute may change if the amount of money the State of Alaska gives school districts per student goes up. There is widespread advocacy for state lawmakers to increase and inflation-proof that amount.

Board members sought to reassure members of the public on Monday that there is still time for the budget document to be amended and encouraged further advocacy of a bump to Alaska’s base student allocation by community members.

“I just want to assure the general public that we do have time to amend this budget before it is put in place on July 1,” said Board Vice President Zen Kelly.

Board member Jason Taurianen said he would vote to approve, but is not in favor of, the budget as balanced.

“It sort of pains me to pass this budget,” Tauriainen said. “I don’t like it.”

Alaska State Statute requires that the board adopt and submit an annual budget to the borough assembly by May 1 of each year. Upon receipt of that budget, the assembly has 30 days to determine how much money they will provide. The assembly must appropriate its share of local funding by May 31, with any subsequent increases to that amount requiring authorization by the assembly.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche said Monday that he is committed to providing the $54.8 million requested by the borough, also the maximum amount allowable at the base student allocation amount of $5,960 for the upcoming fiscal year. The borough assembly is set to hold the first of its budget work sessions with department heads next Tuesday.

More information about KPBSD’s budget process can be found on the district’s finance webpage at kpbsd.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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