District confronts bleak financial forecast

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2002

Even as employees gathered Monday to ask the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District for more pay, school board members and administrators got bad news dimming hopes for raises.

Finance Director Melody Douglas reviewed the current year's expenditures and presented the first forecast of next year's finances during a work session Monday afternoon.

"It's ugly," she said.

The district is running in the red this year, and next year promises major cuts. And that is if employees, who are due to negotiate new contracts between now and June, get no raises at all.

"It is just an extremely unfortunate set of circumstances that our revenue situation is happening at the same time as we are negotiating," she said.

Here is Monday's triple whammy for peninsula schools:

Current shortfall: Expenditures are exceeding the amounts budgeted, meaning midyear belt-tightening. Specifically, health care claims have been 9 percent more expensive. Utilities, especially heating costs, are exceeding projections, too.

Hiring freeze: To cope with the looming shortfall, the district issued a hiring freeze. Effective immediately, positions now advertised will be reviewed. Future openings will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Only those legally mandated for special education or funded by grants are likely to be filled.

Major cuts next year: The district will receive less funding and face more costs for the 2002-03 school year, based on projections from the current year. The estimated gap will be $1.4 million. The number is based on a conservative scenario including a wage freeze and the elimination of 26 teaching jobs. The revenue will drop mainly because student enrollments have declined.

The costs will rise mainly because of additional personnel costs associated with soaring health benefit costs.

The district's budget committee will have its first meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday and will reconvene at 9 a.m. Monday. Both meetings are in the basement conference room at the Borough Building in Soldotna. The committee meetings are open to the public, but seating is limited.

The district will hold a series of public hearings in communities around the peninsula on next year's school budget beginning Feb. 5.

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