Borough should fulfill schools funding request

Posted: Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education on Monday approved a budget of $129 million for the 2010-11 school year. The sources of funding break down this way: $78.6 million from the state; $750,000 from the federal government; $2.2 million from the district's fund balance; and $45.2 million from the borough.

It's a lot of money, but we believe it's money well spent. The school district's budget is well vetted. About 78 percent of the district's expenditures go to salaries and benefits for teachers, administrators and support staff. In other words, most of every dollar spent goes directly to the people entrusted with educating our children. The rest of the district's expenditures go to providing everything else necessary to make that happen -- things like supplies, building utilities and maintenance costs.

The school district now must wait on the borough administration and assembly to finalize their spending plans for the coming year. Borough Mayor Dave Carey has suggested that his budget proposal will include a local contribution of $45 million for the school district, about $200,000 less that what the district is requesting. Carey said he's basing that number on the current year's budget, which includes borough funding at an amount about $277,000 below the cap, or the maximum local contribution to education allowed under state statute.

The borough's contribution to local education is without a doubt a huge expense. It's by far the largest single item in the borough budget.

In years past, the school district has counted on funding to the cap. But if last year's borough budget process taught us anything, it is that the maximum local contribution should no longer be taken for granted. That's a fair lesson, particularly as the cap increases from year to year due to increases in the state's funding.

But in the context of a $129 million budget, withholding $200,000 from the district doesn't make sense. Is the goal simply to make the district dig a little deeper into its savings account -- something it's already doing to balance the proposed budget? Or is there something significant to be gained by making this cut?

If Mayor Carey is making a political statement on fiscal conservatism, cutting a fraction of a percent doesn't say much.

If cuts are truly necessary and not simply an exercise in philosophy, then let's see some meaningful cuts and hear the rationale behind them.

Otherwise, the district's proposed budget is sound and reasonable, and we'd encourage the borough assembly to approve the school district's request to fund to the cap for the upcoming school year.

In short: A token cut is just that -- a token -- and doesn't accomplish anything meaningful for anybody.

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