School budget on the table tonight

Posted: Monday, April 05, 2004

The 2004-05 budget for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will go before the school board for approval tonight. The total proposed operating budget is about $77 million, requiring some $6.7 million in expenditure cuts and revenue adjustments.

The proposed budget includes a $1.6 million allocation of fund balance money set aside last year to help the district deal with rising employer contribution rates in the Public Employees Retire-ment System (PERS) and Teachers' Retirement System (TRS). It also includes an assumed $94 per student increase in the state's education funding formula. State funding is under discussion in the Legislature, but proposed increases are well above the district's $94 gamble.

More controversially, the proposed budget also includes about $3.5 million in cuts to programs and staff.

Among the cuts are reductions in Internet costs, unallocated funds (generally used to deal with crowded classrooms), curriculum adoption money and supply budgets.

The cuts also would eliminate the $1.3 million the district currently spends on cocurricular programs.

The proposed cut may pose some problems, however, after it was announced Thursday that voters failed to approve a proposition that would have allowed the borough to fund the programs outside the district's operations budget.

Also cut in the proposed district budget are a number of staff members. The proposal would eliminate 5.25 positions in the Quest program, two positions in the central office, a half-time position in the district media center, 0.95 of a position in traveling districtwide staff, 2.5 high school secretary positions and five site administrators.

The most talked about of these staffing cuts has been the reduction in Quest staff. The Quest staff serves talented and gifted students in the district, providing enrichment opportunities, modified lesson plans and academic tracks and fellowships for the district's brightest students. Previous proposals have recommended cutting 7.25 Quest teachers and overhauling the program but have drawn fire from teachers, parents and students.

The board must take action on the budget tonight and approve a balanced budget by April 15, before sending it to the borough assembly. The assembly is scheduled to vote on the budget June 1.

Though the proposed cuts have been discussed for months and represent the adminstration's recommendations, board members will have the power to make changes to the budget line by line.

In addition, though an approved balanced budget is required by state law, the district will have free rein to revise the budget throughout the coming year, particularly if additional education funding is granted by the state.

The board will discuss the budget during a work session at 4 p.m. today and is scheduled to take action during the general business meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. Meetings are held in the assembly chambers in the Borough Building in Soldotna.

Also on the board's agenda tonight are schedules for coming years.

The board will take action on its meeting dates for the 2004-05 year, which also have been under discussion. Administra-tors and board members have discussed several options for how the board does business, including moving to once-monthly meetings or staggering a work session day with a business meeting day each month. The recommendation before the board tonight proposes leaving board meetings at twice a month for most of the year, though it suggests cutting March to one meeting due to the positioning of spring break and eliminating one August meeting, as late summer generally is a slow time of year for the board.

The board also will take action on the 2005-06 school calendar. The proposal before the board suggests moving spring break in 2006 to early March to coincide with a new date for the Arctic Winter Games, which will be held on the peninsula. Many Games events will take place at schools, and athletes are expected to be housed in school buildings during the weeklong competition.

The board also will consider:

n Nontenured teacher contracts for 23 teachers for the 2004-05 school year;

n A sabbatical request for a Seward Elementary School teacher;

n A leave of absence request for a Kenai Central High School teacher and a Ninilchik School teacher; and

n Resignations of two Seward teachers and two West Homer Elementary School teachers.

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