District could see more money: Mayor, assemblyman pitch measure to increase borough contribution

Posted: Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In the face of potential layoffs by the school district, the borough mayor and an assembly member are calling to boost the local contribution for education spending.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey, along with Assemblyman Bill Smith, of Homer, are co-sponsoring a resolution to be introduced at the assembly's May 18 meeting that would give the Borough School District an additional $2 million.

Nearly a month ago the assembly voted to provide the district with a minimum amount of about $41.2 million. That was $4 million less than the district requested for its just under $129 million budget.

Last week, district superintendent Steve Atwater told the Board of Education at its meeting in Seward that to make up the difference, the district would spend an additional $2 million from savings, essentially running it dry, and undergo layoffs and staff transfers.

The district would not say at that time how many positions might have to be cut, but that hiring has been frozen on 20 vacancies.

Smith said it was the latter part of the district's response that lead him to sponsor the boost.

"I'm not going to play chicken with people's jobs," he said.

A month ago, Smith cosponsored a laydown resolution with fellow assembly member Gary Superman, of Nikiski, that funded the district $4 million short of their request.

Smith and Superman were critical of the district's accumulation of cash in an equipment fund.

The district, in its response to the shortfall, however, said it would use these monies last.

Smith did say, however, that he thought the district might have moved cash from the equipment fund into applicable line items in the general budget.

Carey, who has proposed funding the district to within about $250,000 of its request, said he too felt the need to boost the minimum funding allocation because of concerns over hiring.

"Our intention was never that there would be people that were laid off, but absolutely the $4 million under prompted the district to hold off on hiring positions that need to be filled," he said.

Carey said he was concerned that the district would not only lose staff but potentially be unable to hire new teachers because of the funding shortfall.

Two weeks ago Carey sent a request for information to the district asking a number of questions about fund balance, revenue sources, pupil-teacher ratios and stimulus funding among other things, but said its response did not influence his decision to support the boost.

Carey said the district's response still did not address all of his questions either, including how administrators plan to spend monies in the fund balance, equipment fund and stimulus funds over the course of the next five years.

"I have not yet seen that being outlined," Carey said. "I think that's still a concern for some and it is for me, as well."

Smith, who also received a copy of the district's response, said he was not entirely pleased either.

"It seemed to be a little off-point," he said.

The district said it has been re-working those questions since the last assembly meeting when Superman said he wanted better answers to what was provided.

Both Smith and Carey said they were confident the resolution would pass.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.

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