Editor’s note: The following is the second in a series of stories examining school funding. Tuesday’s story focuses on how teachers make ends meet in the classroom.
Numbers to note:
39 ... schools in ’91
44 ... schools in ’07
508 ... teachers in ’92
474 ... teachers in ’07
10,394 ... students in ’97
9,368 ... enrollment in ’07
$61,673,416 ... district’s
budget in 1991
... district’s budget in ’08
$46,146 ... amount a
certified, full-time equivalent teacher makes
$68,589 ... amount paid for said teacher, with TRS, life, health and unemployment insurance, Medicaid and discretional funds.
Figures refer to Kenai
When the decade of the 1990s began, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District had 39 schools with 9,318 students. Its budget, expressed in general fund totals, was around $61 million.
Sixteen years later, following a 1,000-student surge in enrollment in the late ’90s, the number of students is back down to 9,368, the district has 44 schools and the general fund budget has nearly doubled to $113 million.
Contributing to the soaring costs of education, according to KPBSD Chief Financial Officer Melody Douglas, are certain scheduled increases in costs which occur every year: the district’s contribution to the Public Employee Retirement System and the Teachers Retirement System (PERS-TRS); salary schedules with their built-in mandatory step increases; property and liability insurance, which go up with every national calamity such as Hurricane Katrina; and rising fuel costs.
District enrollment, reported as average daily membership (ADM), rose continually between 1991 and 1997, reaching 10,396, but then began dropping off, down to 10,384 in 1998 and 10,179 in 1999.
The new century began with an enrollment of 9,896 in 2000 and 9,963 in 2001. From that point on, until now, ADM has dropped somewhat each year to the current 9,368.
Because a large portion of school funding is based on a dollars-per-student ratio, Douglas said, “Unless something significant is done with the formula or the enrollment decline reverses, we will have an ongoing (funding) problem.”
The number of schools in the district has remained relatively consistent since going from 39 to 42 in 1998. The number went up to 43 in 2003 and one more school was added in 2005. The number remains at 44 today.
After reaching 508 in 1992, the number of teachers in the district stayed at 500 or slightly more until three years ago when it dropped to 463. The district had 436 teachers in 2005, 475 in 2006 and 474 in 2007.
Except for a handful of drops in the school district’s budget, it has steadily increased since 1991. The general fund budget then was $61,673,416.
The budget fell slightly in 1997, 2001, 2003 and 2004, but has risen consistently since then. In 2005, it reached $81 million, in 2006 it nearly hit $87 million. The fiscal year 2008 budget is $113,434,399, according to Douglas.
A certified full-time equivalent teacher in the district would receive $46,146 in salary, plus $11,998 in TRS contributions, $669 for Medicaid, $138 for life insurance, $138 for unemployment insurance, $9,300 for health insurance and $200 in discretional funds. The total of salary and benefits equals $68,589 per teacher.
In a letter to the school board, Douglas said an increase in the TRS contribution of $12,935 is anticipated, bringing the total to $81,524 per teacher.
The Alaska Association of School Boards said earlier this year that public school teachers in Alaska earned an average of $55,265 this academic year, an increase of $2,778 or 5.2 percent over the previous year.
The association said a study by the American Federation of Teachers shows Alaska teacher salaries ranking 10th in the nation and second in the West behind California. When it comes to starting teacher pay, Alaska continues to rank number one in the country, the study said.
Rising costs have also driven some cuts in class offerings, but not in core courses, according to Sean Dusek, director of secondary education for KPBSD.
“The biggest area of loss has been languages ... electives,” Dusek said. He also said the school district had strong marketing and accounting offerings at Skyview and Soldotna high schools, but “electives have taken big hits.”
“In vocational ed, a number of shops have gone by the wayside,” he said.
Currently he said music is starting to be scaled back.
“Seward has lost music, but they are trying to bring it back,” Dusek said.
Because of a solid infrastructure, lessons in computer science have maintained a good position.
“We had started CISCO and Microsoft training at Skyview, enabling students to come and work with the (information systems) people at the district office,” he said.
As a response to what has been lost in the school district, Dusek said distance learning “has really come around.”
“We’re offering a little bit more in advanced placement courses at the senior level,” he said.
District schools do offer computers 1, 2, 3 and 4, and according to Dusek, at the 4 level, students receive graphic design and Web page design training.
He anticipates a growing demand in specialized vocational education, such as advanced construction technology and vocational trades.
At present, vocational education includes power mechanics, power engines, diesel engines and advanced metal fabrication.
“We’re able to offer the core subjects, but we’re scaling back (on electives),” he said.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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