Budget constraints might mean all but two of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s 44 schools will have more students and fewer teachers in the classroom next year.
Administrators are recommending the board of education raise the pupil-teacher ratio at all sites other than Kenai Alternative and Homer Flex high schools through the preliminary fiscal year 2017 budget, which Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones presented at the Jan. 11 board meeting. Other factors would compound the changes.
“It’s important for people to realize that completely separate from PTR (pupil-teacher ratio) changes, reduction in staff will happen because of decreased student enrollment at a school,” said Pegge Erkeneff, school district spokesperson. “Added to the adjustments to the PTR staffing formulas, the impact will be greatest for schools that have a combination of smaller student enrollment and PTR change.”
Next year’s average daily membership projects six fewer students than are enrolled this year, according to the preliminary budget.
Classes will increase by two students at the high school level, one student at the middle school level and one student at the large elementary schools, except in kindergarten classrooms, which will remain the same. In small elementary schools and small schools there will be a one-student increase.
The two alternative high schools may also see some adjustments if the school district’s board policy committee and administrators determine they are necessary, following a review process scheduled for February, said Assistant Superintendent of Instruction John O’Brien.
In board policy, Homer Flex and Kenai Alternative high schools are given more flexibility in meeting student needs than in traditional schools.
“Our larger high schools benefit from smaller average class sizes due to opportunities for students such as additional staff in the area of Career and Technical Education, KPC (Kenai Peninsula College) College Jump Start classes, Distance Learning classes, Work Cooperative Classes, etc.,” O’Brien said. “…Principals are in the process of working with district administration about what increased PTR implications will mean for their specific schools.”
He said nothing concrete has been determined about what these changes will look like inside the classrooms.
School administrators have not been left out of the potential cuts. Some assistant principal positions are being reduced to part-time.
“This will affect middle or high schools with enrollments under 400, and our two largest elementary schools (Kalifornsky Beach and Mountain View),” Erkeneff said.
None of the proposed changes are definite.
The first calculations Jones presented on what funds will be available to the school district did not include the $50 increase to the Base Student Allocation of the State of Alaska Foundation Funding Formula that is in the Governor’s budget, but not in State of Alaska revenue projections, according to the preliminary budget.
“KPBSD is bringing forward a realistic budget that takes into account the possibility of flat funding by the state of Alaska,” Erkeneff said. “At this point, we hope funding is not reduced further. If it is, we will need to make additional reductions.”
The board will have to approve the budget by May 1, said Laurie Olson, director of finance. The final budget will have to be balanced, which means expenditures cannot exceed expected revenues and use of fund balance, she said.
In the preliminary budget, administrators wrote the expenditures for next year have not yet been calculated due to the complexity of determining future spending.
Revenues are estimated at $138 million, including an estimated $48.2 million from the Kenai Peninsula Borough, which is $500,000 less than the maximum allowable. It also does not include a one-time funding allocation, which Gov. Bill Walker eliminated last year during the fiscal year 2016 legislative session.
Further, the school district will not know exactly how much money from the state until the legislators finalize their own spending for the 2017 fiscal year.
“No budget is ever set in stone — it’s a budget,” Olson said. “A budget is an estimate or plan of how we intend to spend the revenue for the year.”
Olson said “any meaningful cut” must include some staff positions because more than 80 percent of the school district’s budget is salaries and benefits.
“As the legislative session unfolds in the coming months, we will know more, and if education funding is reduced further, we will be forced to make additional reductions,” Erkeneff said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.