Further cuts to education funding are still a possibility in Juneau.
On April 2, the Senate Finance Committee made an amendment to the state’s 2016 operating budget that would reduce the state’s foundation formula, which determines how much the state will distribute to school districts, by 4.1 percent.
If the budget is approved as is, the amount the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District would receive from the state will decrease. Consequently the maximum allowable contribution from the Kenai Peninsula Borough will also decrease.
Compounded with Gov. Bill Walker’s previously announced revocation of one-time funding, the combined cuts would equate to a nearly $8 million loss of potential funding to the school district, said school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff.
The change in the foundation formula would reduce the state’s contribution by $4.2 million and effectively reduce the local contribution by $977,007, Erkeneff said. That amount equates to 100 full and part-time positions district-wide, she said.
“The senate’s proposal would be a huge loss to the district,” said Matt Fischer, spokesperson for the Kenai Peninsula Education Association. “That is going to decimate a lot of programs.”
Even if the cuts are not made, maintaining the current foundation formula equates to a loss because of inflation, Fischer said. The state constitution requires education to be adequately funded, he said.
“You wouldn’t send in a partial house payment,” Fischer said. “You would do what you have to to pay the bills.”
Complicating matters is the requirement that the school district must pass its budget prior to the finalization of borough and state spending plans.
The 4.1 percent cut was not included in the school district’s 2016 operating budget that was passed by the school board on April 6 because it was unexpected and introduced so late into the legislative session, Erkeneff said.
At the same board meeting, the school board approved the decision not to cut any of the 100 tentative tenured and non-tenured teaching positions, said board member Penny Vadla, who has sat through seven budget cycles.
Once the state’s budget is finalized, the number of staffing positions may be reduced, but it would be for contracts that have not yet been filled, Vadla said.
Right now the hiring process is on hold, said Mountain View Elementary School Principal Karl Kircher. Trying to fill open positions with quality educators is a challenge when giving a definitive answer is not possible, he said.
“We want the best and the brightest,” Kircher said. “We have to hope no one else snatches them up.”
The pupil-teacher ratio at the secondary level, grades 7-12 will increase, but educators will be shifted around, not let go, Erkeneff said in a previous Clarion interview.
“It is very difficult to pass a budget every year without knowing what we will be allocated,” Vadla said. “It’s unconscionable.”
After visiting Juneau last month, Vadla said the 2015 legislative session is notably different. The fiscal climate has changed, and it does not feel as though the legislature is focused on making education a priority this time around, she said.
Students have one opportunity to receive a quality kindergarten through twelfth-grade education, Vadla said.
“It’s not what is best for students anywhere in the state,” said Tebughna School Principal Marilyn Johnson. “It’s very detrimental to students and staff.”
Because academics are the top priority, the first programs likely to suffer are in the areas of physical education, art and music, Johnson said. Schools operating in villages such as Tyonek already know what it is like to go without those core classes, but larger schools may soon experience the same absence, she said.
No staffing reductions are expected at Tebughna next year, but if the statewide cuts continue, Johnson believes losing teachers is inevitable.
During a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and school board joint work session, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said he is unable to estimate how much the assembly is considering contributing to education, but it will likely be more than was allocated last year.
“We are very concerned with the impact that current proposed cuts from Senate Finance and possible future cuts that are starting to be discussed would have on instruction across the district,” said superintendent Sean Dusek. “We see tough choices on the horizon, but will do everything we can to maintain the high quality education the KPBSD provides.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.