Teaching cuts looms over school district

  • By KAT SORENSEN
  • Thursday, March 8, 2018 8:34pm
  • News

As she thinks about how potential teacher cuts would affect her school, Kenai Central High School senior Brittany Gilman finds solace in “Shrek: The Musical.”

“If teachers are cut, that throws everything that’s non-core curriculum in the air,” Gilman said. “Music is really important to me, and in our community. It can connect a lot of people so the thought of losing extra-curriculars like music makes me a little nervous.”

But, she said, music’s role in her life wouldn’t diminish if it fades in the schools thanks to community groups like Kenai Performers who, over the past two weekends, the Kenai Performers held nine performances of “Shrek: The Musical.”

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Sean Dusek lauded community endeavors, like “Shrek: The Musical,” for involving students and providing opportunities to learn outside of the classroom at Wednesday’s Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon. But as the district is in the midst of budgeting for fiscal year 2019, Dusek also raised concerncs about how a $3.3 million deficit could impact education.

According to Dusek, FY19 might be the year that budget cuts start affecting students in the classroom.

If the district sees flat funding from both the borough and the state, an outcome being referred to as ‘Scenario Two,’ administrators are prepared to increase the pupil-to-teacher ratio across the district, cutting 11.5 full time teachers.

“If we have scenario two happen, we will be forced to add 2.5 to that PTR formula in the high schools, which means that we would reduce high school by 7.5 teachers across the district,” Dusek said. “That will touch every single high school in our district.”

Dusek said the effects could be felt with reductions in music, foreign languages and career technology programs.

“Some of these courses are pretty specialized and very, very important,” Dusek said. “We don’t want to do it, but we have to balance the budget.”

Middle schools would see a PTR increase of 1.5, which leads to one full time position cut. In fourth through sixth grades, PTR would increase by one, leading to the loss of 2.5 teachers. In small schools, PTR would increase by .5, meaning a loss of half a full time teacher.

“That would add up to 11.5 less teachers in our schools,” Dusek said. “When you do all the cuts that we’re proposing, though, the unfortunate part is that because we’ve cut nonstop for four straight years … we’re still $200,000 short. We have to find another $200,000. I’m getting really concerned about what would happen to our programs and what opportunities we’re providing for our kids across the district, not just high school.”

Gilman and Hamilton share his concern. Although both will be graduating from Kenai Central High School this year, they agreed that their best classes have been their smallest.

“Even if it’s not our favorite subject, just the fact that we can talk more and try to understand what we’re learning about helps,” Hamilton said. “It’s not just a lecture, it’s an in-class discussion.”

The cuts are scenario two, though, which means that the district has a preferred scenario to fund over $143 million in expenditures. Both scenarios assume flat funding from the state at just under $89 million, an assumption that Dusek is “pretty confident” in. The variable between the two scenarios is how the borough administration and assembly decide to fund the district.

If the borough decides to increase funding in FY19 to the maximum allowable, referred to as funding “to the cap,” their contribution would increase by about $2 million to $41 million. This would decrease the district’s deficit from about $3.3 million to about $1.3 million.

“That increases our revenue, and we have what is called a fund balance — our savings account,” Dusek said. “We have about $7 million in there … so through school board practices we’ll take a portion of that and then we don’t have a deficit anymore.”

In scenario two, the borough provides flat funding. The district covers a portion of their deficit with the fund balance and then makes up the additional $2 million in deficit by raising PTR and other budget cuts.

The school district will continue with two scenarios for a while longer. The district will present the FY19 budget for approval from the school board at the April 2 meeting and present budget information to the borough assembly on April 3. The borough is expected to introduce a funding ordinance around May 1.

Reach Kat Sorensen at ksorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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