Uncertainties complicate school district budget

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Thursday, March 10, 2016 9:26pm
  • News

With the Board of Education slated to vote on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District fiscal year 2017 Operating Budget on April 4, much still is up in the air.

Revenue from both the state and borough is uncertain and costs may increase once negotiations with the teacher and support staff associations reach an agreement. The projected deficit is the smallest it has been in years, but administrators say that figure doesn’t hold weight.

“We have already made a little over $4.5 million worth of budget cuts this year in reducing some pretty vital things to education,” said Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones at Monday’s board meeting.

Originally, administrators projected the General Fund deficit at $717,000, and in March lowered it to $138,665 after two important pieces of information were gleaned from the state.

The school district can request more money from the Kenai Peninsula Borough next year because of updated calculation for true value of taxable real and personal property of Alaska, and 20 more students that qualify as intensive needs enrolled this year than were projected.

With the new information about the increases to the local contribution, Dusek submitted an official request Feb. 29 to borough Mayor Mike Navarre that the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly fund the maximum allowable contribution for the next year.

Board member Marty Anderson said he the body has a good history of fully funding the school district, but it is one of many factors that complicated presenting the state and borough with a balanced budget in April, he said.

“It’s kind of a moving target,” Anderson said. “We are doing the best we can.”

The borough’s maximum allowable contribution tops out at $34,817,188.

“When we have a remaining deficit of $717,000 or a remaining deficit of $138,000, people need to understand that is after we have already cut $4.5 million,” Jones said.

Those cuts include 35.41 full time equivalent staff and certified staff, support, counselor and administrative positions totaling nearly $3.1 million, plus another $1.4 in other areas.

The pupil-teacher ratio is set to rise in all classrooms, in all sites other than the two alternative high schools, Homer Flex and Kenai Alternative, which administrators are also recommending reductions for .5 full time equivalent teaching hours.

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President David Brighton said he thinks the cuts could be taken at a slower pace.

“I certainly think they do a good job allocating the money that is available,” Brighton said. “I do feel they are not spending quite enough in fiscal year (20)17… you save money for the rainy days and I think these are the rainy days.”

Currently the unassigned fund balance is reported at just less than $8 million, according to the preliminary budget from Jan. 11.

“The other thing that is not on here is that there are no estimates in here for the negotiations that are currently going on,” Jones said. “If there is a settlement with that then any additional costs that come to that will increase those deficit amounts.”

Brighton said right now the school district is budgeting for roughly a $1.2 million increase in salaries and benefits that may follow negotiations. He also added the Kenai Peninsula Education and Kenai Peninsula Education Support associations are projecting their newest health care proposal could save the school district up to $3 million next year.

The associations are asking the school district sign up with Public Education Health Trust, a limb of National Education Association of Alaska. The plan would allow roughly 100 teachers to opt out of receiving health care with the school district, saving $15-18,000 per employee, he said.

Other factors may also lower the deficit.

In the school district’s budget doesn’t include the $50 increase to the base student allocation in the foundation formula, which determines how much a student receives in state funding, promised in Gov. Bill Walker’s fiscal year 2017 Operating Budget.

“It’s sitting in the house right now which has left it in at this point, so we will see,” Jones said. “Depending on who you listen to on the hill, the Senate plans to take it out so we will see.”

If the $50 is kept that means an additional $800,000 from the state and $300,000 from the borough, Jones said. Jones added that a 5 percent reduction to the BSA that does not include Walker’s addition has been proposed, which would result in $5 million less for the school district.

“We also have developed plans if there are deeper cuts from the state and thus the borough,” Dusek said. “All of those plans include significant staff reductions and greater use of fund balance. If the $50 increase is maintained, we would put that back into the classroom by retaining more staff starting at the elementary level.”

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

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