One week from Monday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education will be voting on the school district’s budget for the 2016-17 school year.
The school board and district administration face numerous challenges in putting together a budget — not the least of which is that the spending plan has to be completed before the district has any certainty about the amount of funding it will receive. The budget presented to the board reflects both uncertain funding as well as the reality of the state’s $4 billion budget gap.
School districts in essence face a moving target when it comes to budgeting as borough and state funding — the two main sources for school distirct funding — haven’t yet been finalized. The state House and Senate have passed operating budgets, but need to iron out the differences between the two, and the scheduled end of the current legislative session isn’t until April 17. Meanwhile, the borough’s budget process is just getting under way, with final budget approval coming in early June. School district budget planners are able to glean some information based on the governor’s proposed budget and initial amendments by lawmakers, but a large part is done with an educated guess.
But unlike the state or borough, the school district has no authority to levy taxes to cover a budget gap. Its only options are to dip into savings, which it has had to do for several years, or to hope for additional funding from the borough or state.
According to school district administration, this year’s budget includes $4.5 million in cuts, much of that coming from staffing reductions. While we acknowledge the difficult decisions being made, we also know that cutting staff, while it saves money, still comes with a cost. Fewer teachers means larger classes and less time for individual attention for students. It means a smaller pool of staff to lead co-curricular activities. It means a larger work load for the staff that remains, and fewer support staff to help out.
In past rounds of layoffs, schools have relied on volunteers to fill some of the gap, doing everything from making photocopies to helping with an activity to reading with students. The coming years will be no exception, and we hope members of the community — you don’t need to have a child in school to help — continue to give generously of their time.
In the mean time, we hope the Legislature is able to develop a sustainable funding structure so that schools can take some of the guesswork out of the budget process. What schools need to thrive is stable, consistent funding. When it comes to budgeting, no more moving targets. Education of a child from kindergarten through high school is a 13-year investment; we hope that moving forward, schools will be able to plan for the long-term success of every student.