Now is the time to weigh in on school spending

  • Saturday, October 11, 2014 5:33pm
  • Opinion

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has begun the process of developing next year’s budget.

Part of that process includes several opportunities for the public to weigh in on what usually ends up being a divisive topic in the spring.

It’s a difficult time for the school district. The Board of Education is required to pass a balanced budget, but has to do so before the state and Kenai Peninsula Borough decide how much money will be contributed to the district.

Having to decide where to spend an amount of money that has yet to be announced would be a difficult task for any institution. That difficulty is compounded by several years of dipping into savings to present a balanced budget.

The practice is not sustainable and as outgoing Superintendent Steve Atwater said during a recent budget discussion meeting, the practice should not continue.

Community meetings to discuss the budget, however, are typically rather sparsely attended.

During a video-conferenced budget meeting Thursday, about 100 people showed up at sites around the district to talk about numbers for the 2015-16 year.

This is an encouraging sign and a good start to getting more public involvement in the process. The district should have the budget development calendar finalized by Oct. 20 and the Board of Education will hold a budget work session on Oct. 21.

We encourage everyone in the district to weigh in the on process as early as possible — well in advance of the April 7 date for the district to get its budget to the borough.

Last year, the district projected a $4.5 million budget deficit for the 2015 fiscal year. The administration offered several options for reducing that deficit, including closure of the Skyview pool and a reduction in teachers and staff.

When those options came to light, dozens of community members raised concerned about the closure of the pool, and a reduction in teaching staff was roundly criticized, while district administrators explained repeatedly that a budget deficit meant that something, somewhere would have to be cut.

Last year, administrators raised the pupil-teacher ratio to cut staff and used money from the health care fund balance to reduce what started as an $8.2 million deficit to a $4.5 million deficit. The state stepped in with additional funding, as did the borough assembly — but the district still had to use some of its fund balance to cover the rest of the gap.

These are the types of decisions that are best made with input from all parts of the community, including those who teach or work in our schools, those who have children who are educated in them and those who pay taxes so that the district may continue to function. And it’s important for the administration and school board to hear from the community now, at the beginning of the process, when proactive steps can be taken in crafting the budget.

We encourage you to let the district know what you’d like them to do with your money both for your peace of mind and for the benefit of everyone whose education depends on the continued financial viability of their schools.

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