There’s an adage used by just about everyone involved in planning for contingencies: Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
That same bit of advice should be applied to the way our government goes about preparing budgets, too.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administration and school board are wrestling with just that as they continue to develop a spending plan for the 2014-15 school year. During a work session this week, the board and administration discussed ways to address a budget shortfall that is projected to be larger than anticipated at $3.4 million.
Addressing a budget shortfall comes down to increasing revenue, cutting expenses, or some combination of the two. In recent years, the district has been able to avoid cuts by drawing on budget reserves, however, as the administration made a point of noting, that practice is not sustainable.
There’s a chance that the district might see an increase in revenue. The school district budget is very complex, with funding coming from local, state and federal sources. However, the borough might need to dig into its own reserves if it decides to provide the district more money. The state is anticipating a decline in revenue in the coming year — and education funding already is shaping up to be a topic of debate when the Legislature convenes next week. And anticipating additional funding from the federal government isn’t realistic.
That leaves the school district with the difficult task of looking for things to cut from the budget. It is by no means a pleasant task, and no one wants to see programs cut. Nor do we want to return to the days when the district sent out pink slips in mass mailings.
But the administration and school board have a responsibility to make a realistic assessment of revenue, and adjust expenditures accordingly to ensure that district spending is sustainable beyond the next budget cycle. Perhaps the borough or state governments will come up with additional funding. Perhaps there’s some cost savings that have yet to be realized. Let’s hope that drastic cuts do not become necessary, but a plan needs to be in place to ensure that Kenai Peninsula students are able to get the best education possible with the resources available.