School district weighs staffing cuts

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Wednesday, February 10, 2016 10:18pm
  • News

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District FY2017 Preliminary Budget includes a deficit smaller than the current fiscal year. Only $284,294 is being proposed for use from the General Fund.

That is because administrators are already weighing at least $3.1 million in spending reductions, equating to the elimination of 35 full-time certified staff positions for the next school year. The first draft of the budget was released at the beginning of February and details the data behind the significant cuts being proposed to the Board of Education.

“The biggest impacts across the district will be less support and professional development opportunities for teachers to improve, along with fewer elective or exploratory course opportunities for kids,” said Superintendent Sean Dusek.

He said while schools will still provide many of the same opportunities for students, “they may be more restricted in what they can offer and have to make difficult choices between various programs.”

Assistant Superintendent John O’Brien said district office staff and assistant principals have been notified that their positions may be eliminated. Principals have spoken with their non-tenured staff that may be affected. It is still too early to tell how many will be impacted, he said.

“Once tenured teachers sign their contracts and decide if they will be returning for the 2016-2017 school year, we will have a better idea of how many of the reductions can be addressed through attrition — retirements and resignations,” O’Brien said.

It is not the first time as many positions have been cut in one year, said school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff. Roughly 12 of the 35 positions up for elimination are due to next year’s lower projected enrollment numbers, she said.

School district Director of Finance Laurie Olson said the pupil-teacher ratio may increase or decrease depending on whether more or less funding becomes available than has been budgeted.

The school district is not expecting legislators to add anything to the Base Student Allocation, which is the amount allocated by the state for each student projected to enroll in a school district the following school year, according to the budget. Gov. Bill Walker’s budget includes a $50 increase, but the school district is not planning for it.

“I don’t know if we will get the $50,” said board member Penny Vadla. “I believe we will. I hope we will. It will make a big difference, I think.”

Board member Tim Navarre said administrators should include the $50 increase to show the state how crucial the extra funding would be to continue providing the same level of services to students, during a worksession Feb. 1.

For a balanced budget, revenues and expenditures must add up to zero. Expenditures for the next year are budgeted at $138.4 million, $3.1 million less than the $142.2 million it cost the school district to provide all services this year.

Roughly 70 percent of total funding comes from the State of Alaska, 30 percent from the Kenai Peninsula Borough, and other small amounts from grants and activity fees. More than 80 percent of the school district’s annual budget goes to salaries and benefits.

Administrators will not know exactly how much either source will allocate to the school district prior to the board passing the budget.

“As is the case every year, the district’s budget must be finalized and sent to the assembly before we know what actual funding will be from the state and the borough,” Olson said. “In addition, revenue projections are based on projected enrollment, which varies from the actual enrollment, so when actual enrollment counts are used, that changes the revenue.”

Ongoing negotiations between the school district and the Kenai Peninsula Education and Kenai Peninsula Education Support associations are forcing further uncertainty with the finances. This round of collective bargaining is nearing the one-year mark, for contracts set to begin July 1, 2015. The three teams are currently stuck on resolving what health care plans will be made available to school district staff, and how much of the plans will the school district fund.

Administrators have tried to prune areas other than salaries and benefits. For example, Olson said spending on supplies has been tweaked where it could be.

“Curriculum materials are reviewed and purchased on a six-year revolving schedule, so putting off purchase of a certain subject is not just a one- or two-year issue,” Olson said. “If we stop that process, or push part of it off to a subsequent year, it affects all of the educational plans at all schools.”

Vadla said many of the changes being made are ones administrators have put off as long as possible.

“‘What is the next thing we have to cut, we can only trim down so much’ — I think that is what is on everyone’s mind,” she said.

Also notable this year, much more so than in years past, administrators have utilized crowdsourcing as a way to gauge what areas of the budget the public believe could be trimmed down. Public meetings to information and receive feedback from community members have been well scheduled, but she wishes more people would attend.

The board is scheduled to take action on the budget April 4 at the regularly scheduled meeting.

 

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

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