School board to discuss cuts

Budget tops district meeting set to take place in Homer tonight

Posted: Monday, March 01, 2004

Area schools will have their first look at what next year's budget may bring as the district struggles to bridge its ever-expanding budget gap.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administration will bring forward a proposed budget for the board to review at its meeting today in Homer.

The meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Mariner Theatre at Homer High School. Work sessions precede the meeting in the HHS library.

The district, which is facing a $5.2 million budget shortfall, is examining a variety of cuts, including cocurricular activities, funding for special education and advanced programs and staff reductions.

The board has until its April 5 meeting to vote on the budget, but decisions regarding tenured teacher cuts must be made by March 16.

At its last meeting, the board examined a list of 21 possible budget cuts.

As in past years, the district is in the difficult position of having to balance a budget before it knows how much state funding it can expect for next year. With pressure mounting from larger school districts, such as Anchorage, legislators are likely to consider some increase in funding.

According to district financial director Melody Douglas, the district may count on the smallest of the proposed state increases, Senate Bill 1, which would increase the per-student funding formula by $94 next year, bringing in $1.6 million for the district.

Some board members, however, said they are uncomfortable counting on money that hasn't been appropriated yet.

In past years, the district has passed budgets in a similar manner with inadequate funding for areas such as supplies based on the assumption that state increases would materialize.

Another easy fix for the district this year is a $77,000 savings in Internet costs. At the board's last meeting, Jim White, the district's director of data processing, told the board the district had received a highly competitive bid for the service.

The district also is likely to suggest an across-the-board cut to cocurricular activities, a $1.3 million cost to the district, which many are hoping will be paid for by the borough if an upcoming mail-in vote is successful.

Even with the savings and the potential funding from the state figured in, the district still must find $2.63 million to cut. Since 80 percent of its costs are in staffing, the board voted to put steps in motion that would allow it to implement any cuts to teaching staff as required by the district staff contracts. All nontenured teachers were notified that they may not be retained.

Deb Germano, board president, said the upcoming meeting would be the group's first opportunity to "throw stones" at the district's proposals. The mid-March meeting would be another chance to make changes to the budget before April's final decision.

Germano, who was in Juneau last week lobbying for a substantial increase to the school funding formula, said she expects some state funding increase to be approved, but she doesn't know how much.

She said several items are likely to be on the administration's recommendation, including the Quest program an advanced education program staffing for the district's media center and a change that could make principals in 11 sites take on teaching duties.

"I'm honestly not sure what they will come forward with," Germano said. "I just hope along the way the Legislature will actually do something."

Carey James is a reporter for the Homer News.

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