School district meetings consider budget options

Staff in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, teachers and members of the public began brainstorming how to reconcile an expected budget cut last week.

At public budget meetings held simultaneously Thursday at 31 Kenai Peninsula Borough School District schools, district officials asked attendees to consider a dilemma they expect to face next year — a school district budget that could decline by 10 percent, an amount near the middle of the three to 20 percent cut that School District Superintendent Sean Dusek previously speculated could come from the Alaska Legislature in next year’s state budget cycle.

District-wide, a 10 percent cut to the peninsula’s $140 million revenue budget would be $14 million, an amount Dusek has said can’t be covered by the district’s approximately $5 million reserve fund. InThursday’s meetings, each district school used its own budget in an exercise that asked attendees to trim the school’s spending by 10 percent.

The budget meeting at the Kenai Central High School library was attended by a group of Kenai Central and Kenai Middle School teachers, as well as School District Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones, Kenai Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President Blaine Gilman and Dave Brighton, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, which represents teachers as one of the school district’s three collective bargaining groups for employees. This group sat down with pens, Post-it notes and copies of the Kenai Central and Kenai Middle School budgets to ponder how they’d make the 10 percent cut, as well as two other questions posed by district staff: how to communicate the district’s budget problems and what other methods the district could use to gain revenue.

At Kenai Middle School, a 10 percent cut would eliminate $378,199 from its current Fiscal Year 2017 budget of about $3.78 million. Excluding school lunches and transportation costs — most of which are funded by the federal government and not included in this budget — Kenai Middle School spent about $3.5 million on staff benefits and salaries and $259,528 on other expenses including utilities, school materials, technical services, travel and natural gas for heating, according to the budget presentation.

Answers to the budget reduction question — delivered anonymously via Post-it notes — included more distance education, closing smaller schools, contracting out janitorial positions, going to a four-day school week and using booster clubs to fund extracurricular activities.

Public awareness ideas included the release of videos, such as the one the district has produced featuring Dusek.

Answers to the extra revenue question included lotteries, sin taxes, and taxes on the commercial marijuana industry. The question was largely hypothetical, however, since the school district’s revenue comes from the state, federal and borough budgets, which fund according to formulas and are susceptible to legislative cuts. Jones said ideas presented at the meetings will be given to school board members at their November meeting.

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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