School district hosts first budget meetings with the public

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Monday, October 19, 2015 11:18pm
  • News

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is crowdsourcing for a second year to assist with budget development.

Superintendent Sean Dusek and Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones held a crash course on the sources and uses of available funds for the fiscal year 2017, broadcast with Microsoft Lync videoconferencing to 23 school sites Thursday. The two administrators explained the school district is virtually dependent on state and local allocations.

“Does Board of Education have the authority to raise revenue? No they cannot. They can’t raise taxes, that is the area of the (Kenai Peninsula Borough) Assembly,” Jones said. “It can’t tell the state to give more.”

State funding accounts for 64 percent of the school district’s unrestricted general fund balance. The Kenai Peninsula Borough provides 35 percent and 1 percent comes from other sources, such as the federal government. The majority of the borough’s annual local contribution is raised through taxes, Jones said.

“When, in the summer, I go to the grocery store and have to stand behind a bunch of tourists and dipnetters from Anchorage, I just say, ‘Thanks for coming.’”

Revenue taken in is either put toward specific “special” services such as food service or transportation, or general funds, which the board must approve, for programs and salaries among other general activities.

Following nearly $1.5 million in cost reductions by consolidating pool operations, reducing utility budgets and increasing the pupil-teacher ratio at the secondary level, the school district still had to schedule a nearly $3.5 million use of the fund balance.

“That’s a significant use,” Jones said. “To move forward, that places a burden on how we are going to fund next year.”

It is important to remember employee benefits and salaries account for more than 81 percent of the school district’s budget, Jones said. While the board decided to renew all existing non-tenured part and full-time teacher contracts for the 2016 fiscal year, 9.5 positions were eliminated to cut costs, he said.

Tampering with the remaining expenditures is also tricky.

For example, making an across-the-board, 10 percent cut to all existing programs and services won’t work because “you can’t say, ‘OK, we just won’t eat on Fridays,’” Jones said.

So, the school district has to go in and look at individual programs and services and see where efficiencies can be found, and that’s where the school district is looking to the public for suggestions, because more use of the fund balance “moves us closer to a cliff,” Jones said.

Following the videoconference, community members, public officials and school district staff and administration discussed potential options for reducing expenditures, which will be compiled and presented to the board of education at the Nov. 2 regularly scheduled meeting.

At the Kenai Central High School meeting location, school principal Alan Fields was onsite to facilitate the discussion Thursday.

Board member Tim Navarre was also in attendance at the high school. He said once the budget is finished, schools don’t have much “discretionary, if any” leftover monies.

Assembly member Blaine Gilman asked Fields if he felt there was any “wiggle room,” any areas that could see reductions without major impacts.

Fields said as of right now, annually it costs about $5.6 million to run the high school. If, say, the school district chooses to increase the pupil-teacher ratio next year, that may mean French, for example, would no longer be offered.

“It has a bigger effect in a bigger school,” Fields said. “We lose a whole teacher versus part of a teacher. If that happens… I am going to lose a program. That program will just go away because I won’t have enough staff.”

Fields said electives are usually the first to go, because the school has to provide basic requirements first. If, for example, staff reductions were made in the cafeteria, lunch may have to come out cold some days.

“If you are going to cut those personnel, you are going to have to change the delivery of it,” Fields said.

Gilman said he sees the lack of funding as a “revenue issue.” Not much more can be streamlined at individual schools, he said.

“This is a state fix,” Gilman said.

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President David Brighton, also in attendance, suggested everyone start calling legislators and advocate for more state funding.

“We can’t cut our way to a balanced budget, and at the same time we can’t tax our way to a balanced budget,” Brighton said.

The entire current budget document for the 2017 fiscal year is on the school district’s website at kpbsd.k12.ak.us under the finance page, said school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff. It includes a breakdown of each school’s budget.

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

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