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Assembly may increase borough’s contribution to almost $38 million

More local money for schools

Posted: Friday, March 09, 2007

Last spring’s increase in the state’s base student allocation coupled with a the fall’s larger-than-expected enrollment have borough officials considering an increase in local spending on Kenai Peninsula Borough schools.

Tuesday, the assembly will vote whether to make a supplemental appropriation of more than $1.83 million to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s budget.

Last June when the assembly adopted its 2006-07 budget, it included an appropriation of a little under $36.8 million to schools. That figure was based on an average daily enrollment of 9,244 students and a base student allocation by the state of $5,347.

The Alaska Legislature, however, approved a base student allocation of $5,380, and by the time schools were in session in late fall, total enrollment had risen to 9,370. Those increases combined to generate more than $4.33 million in additional state revenue for the district, allowing for an increase in the amount the borough government could appropriate. State and federal laws set a maximum for local funding. Historically, the borough has always provided local funding to this “cap.”

“The school district has adopted a revised budget of $118,523,837, which takes into account the increase in state funding and assumes funding at the cap from the borough,” Borough Finance Director Craig Chapman told the assembly in a recent memo.

If assembly members approve the increase — they are not required to do so — it would bring total local funding for schools to $37,944,869. That figure includes a local effort of just over $30 million, as well as money to cover costs associated with maintenance, utilities, insurance, audit fees and custodial services.

The borough’s general fund has sufficient money to cover the proposed increase, but whether the assembly will spend the money has yet to be decided.

Assembly member Grace Merkes, of Sterling, said she wanted to review the condition of the borough’s general fund before deciding to support the supplemental appropriation.

“I haven’t decided myself one way or another,” she said. “As far as the assembly as a whole goes, I imagine it probably will pass.”

Mayor John Williams was unavailable for comment. He was in Washington, D.C., at the National Association of Counties’ Legislative Conference. Accompanying the mayor are Assembly President Ron Long and assembly members Margaret Gilman and Pete Sprague.

School district officials currently are working on next year’s schools spending package. As usual, they are trying to write a balanced budget without knowing how much will be coming from the state — a figure not likely to be set before the district’s budget must be written and submitted to the borough.

Rep. Mike Chenault, a co-chair of the House Finance Committee, recently said the Legislature was eyeing proposals that could provide some relief to extremely tight school budgeting — including state help in paying down public and school district employee benefit obligations, an increase in the area-cost differential, which borough officials say is set too low, resulting in under-funding to the district of more than $100 million over the past decade, and another increase in the base student allocation.

Hal Spence can be reached at harold.spence@peninsulaclarion.com.



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