Six-point plan cuts $1.25 million from 2015 budget

Teaching positions are 40 percent of cuts
File photo/Peninsula Clarion In this April 2, 2009 file photo Soldotna High School language arts teacher Alissa Mattson helps a student with a lesson. Continued low enrollment has caused funding shortfalls in the district which will require raising the student to teacher ratio in coming years.

In the scheme of things, cutting 8.5 teaching jobs from a school district that employs more than 600 is not much. But, plans leave positions unfilled will raise the student to teacher ratio.


Friday, Kenai Peninsula School District Superintendent Steve Atwater said that the bulk of his proposed $1.25 million cut to the district’s 2015 budget, which starts next July, will come from teachers’ positions.

Next year’s cuts will follow a newly identified $300,000 state funding shortfall in this year’s budget resulting from the district overestimating enrollment. Atwater said that loss should be relatively easy to absorb in a budget the size of his district.

The cuts for FY15 are part of a proposed six-point plan to reduce district spending in an effort to begin recouping overspending during the district’s recent years of relying on savings to balance the annual $150 million budget, Atwater said.

The cuts come on the heels of a school board review of the FY13 budget projections compared to actual revenues and found the district had again overspent.

Following a real deficit of $1.24 million in FY13, the district needs to start addressing the problem because it does not have limitless fund balance, he said.

The unfilled teacher’s positions equal about $500,000 in salary and benefits — 40 percent of the total cuts.

Also to see spending cuts is the district office staff budget by $150,000; district software purchasing by $150,000; school board travel by $4,000; technology and equipment by $150,000 and reduced school supplies by $50,000.

Atwater said the remaining balance will come from an expected utilities savings of $250,000 from some Homer area schools modifying boilers to natural gas.

As a result of fewer teaching positions the student to teacher ratio will change for the first time since 2007, when state education increases allowed for more teachers in the high schools, Atwater said.

On average, the student teacher ratio will jump from 20 students per-teacher to 21 students per-teacher, Atwater said on Friday.

The actual ratio increase is obscured because the district has no across-the-board student-teacher ratio.

According to the district website, which Atwater said was accurate, ratios vary depending on individual schools and grade levels. Grades 1 through 3 are expected to have one teacher per 22 students; grades 4 through 12 are listed at a 1:24 ratio. Atwater said small schools such as Hope were to be at a 1:19 ratio.

Atwater could not say which grade levels would see the increases in student per teachers.

“You round numbers as you can,” Atwater said.

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President Neil Denny in September said Atwater told the union that any proposed cuts would likely not impact tenured certified teaching staff, beyond those lost to attrition and the small percentage of teachers that leave the district each year on their own.

Denny has left the union position and no one was available to speak on behalf of the teachers’ union Friday or Saturday.

Atwater said no teachers would lose their jobs; the cuts would come by not filling jobs of departing teachers. The district will still hire 40 or 50 teachers next year, he said.

With Atwater saying support staff in the schools would likely escape cuts, Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association President Patty Sirois said that staff — those that serve lunch, work as secretaries in offices and those that clean and care for buildings — is already in balance with student needs.

According to the district, 509 people work in support of 9, 262 students and more than 700 teachers and administrators.

Sirois had not yet had an opportunity to talk with Atwater about the proposed cuts.

On Sirois’ list of questions for Atwater is what the $150,000 cut in district support staff cut means. The money could represent two or three relatively new non-teaching members of her bargaining unit or it could be a long-time single “exempt” employee, such as an assistant superintendent, she said.

“It’s not clear at all,” she said. “It’s hard to know

On Nov. 12, assistant superintendent Dave Jones led poorly attended public meeting called a “Budget Development Committee, which was tasked with reviewing “the current practices and procedures used to develop the expenditure budget” and explain how federal, state, and local revenues are determined.

According to a district press release, “Suggestions for changes or improvements to the FY15 (2014-2015) budget will be received and discussed.”

District 7 Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Brent Johnson attended the meeting, after receiving a notice only two days before. Johnson was the only assembly member to attend and said a teacher, a school board member and a couple of students were the only others in the meeting, which let out earlier than scheduled.

Johnson said Jones explained how state a funding worked. Little was discussed in terms of budget development or ideas on the proposed cuts, he said.

Johnson said he was a “little disappointed” in the low the attendance at the committee meeting was when considering how many people questioned school spending during the run up to the October election.

“I would have thought it would have been crowed,” Johnson said. “Education is hugely important.

The recently reelected assembly member said he went in order to connect with the FY15 budget on the “ground floor.” Before the process is done an estimated $41 million in borough tax dollars — about 68 percent of all borough taxes collected — will be given to the school district.

Newly elected District 3 Assembly member Wayne Ogle said he would have like to attend the committee meeting himself, but only received notice the day before. The district could have done a better job giving advance notice so that people could have gotten the meeting on their schedule, he said.

Ogle attributed the short notice as an “oversight.”

The meeting was the only one open to the public before the FY15 budget is presented to the school board in January, according to district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff.

According to a Nov. 12 email from Erkeneff, the district’s senior management will work on the budget in closed-door sessions from Dec 1 to 10. The first public presentation of the budget, in a big picture sense, comes in January, she said.

“Senior management is Dr. Atwater, and our two assistant superintendents, Dave Jones, and Sean Dusek” Erkeneff wrote. “These December 1-10 dates are a timeframe for internal meetings, not open to the public. This is a time when KPBSD internally creates the budget.”

No mentioned by Erkeneff is that the Dec. 3 senior staff “joint work session” with the borough assembly is open to the public.

Atwater said the Dec. 3 meeting would be a presentation of the district’s “financial picture” to the assembly as they prepare to decide how much school funding to include in their own 2015 budget, which will be finalized in June.

For FY14, the assembly approved $41.5 million for schools.

Johnson said the assembly has no “oversight” on the school district budget priorities or what they spend money on. That’s the school board’s responsibility, he said.

“The Assembly could have something to say if we had something substantial to say,” Johnson said.

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