School board starts budget process with question marks

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Wednesday, October 22, 2014 10:51pm
  • News

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education is building its 2016 fiscal year budget without knowing what funding is coming from the state and Kenai Peninsula Borough just yet.

The school board had their second meeting for budget development Tuesday.

Site councils from Anchor Point, Kalifornsky Beach, Nikiski, Kenai, Soldotna, Seldovia and Tyonek responded to the school board’s request for reviewing what areas of spending the individual schools can reduce.

No response came from Seward or Homer schools, said Superintendent Steve Atwater. The school board will follow up with the schools they haven’t received input from, said Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones.

The board is looking into its spending plan a little early this year, Atwater said.

“We have to,” said school board president Joe Arness. “We know we are going to be in a hole next year. We just don’t know how deep.”

Arness said the budget process begins even before teacher contracts are signed in early spring, so the board knows roughly how many employees the district can keep on the payroll. Staff salaries make up 82 percent of the budget, he said.

The school board has agreed to build a budget for the 2016 fiscal year going off of what they know right now, Arness said. That isn’t much, but that is common for this time of year, he said.

School board member Dan Castimore expressed his frustrations about the process.

“There is no point (in starting the budget process) because everything is an exercise in futility at this point anyway,” Castimore said. “Unless money from heaven falls out of the sky, or all teachers agree to a 20 percent pay cut, or Homer Electric Association agrees to charge us less for heat. Every year the sky is falling and I hate it.”

School board member Sunni Hilts disagreed with Castimore. The school board has to identify the essential basic needs of the schools and make sure those are provided.

“Last year we did it (made cuts) so ethically and effectively,” Hilts said. “It still didn’t have a good effect.”

Atwater said last year’s budget process was frustrating when the Kenai Peninsula Borough did not fund to the cap.

“We showed the borough we tightened our belt and hoped the borough would spend more money,” Atwater said.

In January the school board will also be entering negotiations with the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, which represents the certified teachers in the district, Jones said. The board will also be meeting with the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association, which represents support staff, he said.

Negotiations are scheduled every three years, but it adds another question mark to the annual mix this year, Arness said.

It is too early to tell, not only what funding will come from the borough, but also what will be coming from the state, Arness said. There isn’t a sense among the board members yet if there will be staffing cuts again, he said.

The question Arness posed to the board was whether or not they wanted to wait to create the budget until funding was announced from the state and borough, or move forward and start looking at the room for changes that can be made right now.

“We can take our best guess at what we think it is going to cost us,” Arness said.

 

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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