Board approves school district budget

The Board of Education approved the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District FY17 Operating Budget, including a $209,424 use of fund balance, a request to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly for more than $49 million and nearly $139.5 in expenditures.

 

Dan Castimore was the only board member to vote against the budget this year after proposing three last minute amendments, none of which passed at the April 4 meeting. He said it was his only opportunity to make changes to the final draft, as no official action was allowed in the monthly work sessions held throughout the budget’s development process.

“So, if one board member’s opinion is not part of the general consensus, they don’t get an opportunity to have on the record that they feel this way and other people don’t,” Castimore said. “We don’t have a first reading. So, I appreciate what you guys are saying that you don’t want to have these discussions here, but you give me no other time.”

The board had two final options to choose from at the meeting.

The first and approved option, was an administration-recommended plan, which projected Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed $50 increase to the base student allocation in the state’s foundation funding formula. The second, the “worst case scenario,” projected no increase to the BSA, and that the employee contribution to the Public Employees’ Retirement and Teacher Retirement systems would rise by a few percentages. Both included the reinstatement of 13.5 Full Time Equivalent teaching positions that were previously eliminated in the FY17 Preliminary Budget.

Castimore’s first proposal was that the board amend the communication that was before them for approval that evening, and replace the final draft with the budget document presented to them in March.

Board member Tim Navarre said he would not support the amendment “in the last hour,” because it might create some legal concerns, and administrators have made changes to the document within the past month. Board member Bill Holt said he thought reverting to an older copy would create too much confusion.

Castimore also proposed two line item amendments, including the board approve to take funds allocated for health care costs and put them toward a termination study that would eliminate some board members from the PERS.

“There was a time when that cost was minimal, but that time is not now,” Castimore said. “It is no longer reasonable for board members to receive a benefit that costs this much.”

Castimore cited the school district’s health care proposal for contracts set to begin July 1, 2015, recently accepted by the Kenai Peninsula Education and the Kenai Peninsula Educational Support associations, which raises the minimum number of hours an employee must work per week from 20 to 30 to receive benefits.

“At the same time, we are asking for this benefit for board members who attend one board meeting and one work session per month,” Castimore said. “That is not reasonable.”

Navarre asked the other board members not to approve the amendments due to lack of information. He said some revisions should be made as changes in board policy, and others required consultation with those who would be directly affected by rent increases, for example.

Of Castimore’s plan for PERS, Navarre said if it weren’t addressed in policy, board members would just be back on the plan again next year. Board member Penny Vadla said she agreed that the PERS process for board members might need to be reviewed, but not that evening. She also added, while the board seats shouldn’t necessarily be paid positions, it may something that could attract more potential candidates in the future.

“I don’t really think we will get anywhere when we line item this and that and look through it and actually change the policy when if we need to and, or look at something differently,” Vadla said. “I will not be in favor of this, or unless I hear a really good amendment or any other amendments because I feel like that will not make the process go backwards.”

The board members also had issue with his other line item amendment that would increase all charter school leases by 2 percent and reallocate the money to Pre-Kindergarten programs throughout the school district. He equated his proposal to the agreement between the school district and Vozenesenka Community Council Inc., which would increase rent by 2 percent annually in the next lease contract, if the two groups can agree on the price of water.

“I don’t understand how can ask that of one organization, while we don’t ask another,” Castimore said.

Navarre said increasing rates for the community council and the charter schools was not “apples to apples,” and that the charter schools would need to be part of the discussions so they could properly handle changes to individual site budgets. He also suggested maybe any freed-up funds would be better put in savings or, at the least, require more conversation on how they will be used.

Board member Liz Downing said she loved the “idea of putting more money into Pre-K” but that she wouldn’t be willing to make any changes like that immediately.

“There are a lot of ramifications that need to be discussed by administration and looked at from the big picture, so I don’t think this is the most productive time to get into the weeds of lines items in the budget,” Downing said.

Lynn Hohl and Castimore agreed that perhaps next year the development process needs some tweaking. There may need to be more time spent on the board addressing individual items during work sessions, they said.

At the end of the meeting Navarre added he was pleased administrators had included a lapse in this year’s budget, although it was not all-inclusive, and was only for employee’s salaries and benefits.

“All this budget session, I had to fight, and say it, and do it, and finally a lapse happened,” Navarre said. “It wasn’t quite the way I wanted it, but it still a lapse.”

Multiple members mentioned that the budget is expected to be revised continuously throughout the next year.

“On the budget as currently proposed, it is sort of the final approval of the beginning draft of the one that we will develop over the course of the next twelve months, but is a guideline for the year 2017,” said Joe Arness, board president.

Reach Kelly Sullivan kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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