Schools sweat the small stuff, too

Funding problems filter down to shortages in everyday items

Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2007

Editor’s note: This is the final in a series of stories examining school funding. See also the story on page C-1 about Moose Pass’ efforts to deal with funding cuts.

When the issue of school funding is discussed, it often is the state per-pupil funding rate, the foundation formula that is used to divvy up money among school districts and skyrocketing retirement rates that jump to the forefront of the dialog, but there are other, often overlooked, necessities that also must be factored into the equation.

Anyone who has used a restroom in a school likely didn’t find themselves without a square to spare in regard to toilet tissue, but that may not be the case if current trends continue.

“Toilet paper, paper towels, soap, disinfectants, mops, brooms, gloves, garbage bags, vacuum bags — it all adds up,” said Melissa Stavola, principal at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School.

Stavola said she has found covering the cost of these items challenging given the budget she has to work with.

“The daily supply of janitorial products needed to keep the school running is expensive,” she said.

Stavola’s original supplies budget provided by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District was $4,483 for the year. By the beginning of May the school had accrued $6,566 in supply expenses, $2,083 over the allotted amount.

“That left us having to take money from here and there, and other programs, to cover the cost,” she said.

Stavola said the school charges a building-use fee for after hours activities, such as the monthly contra dance put on by the Kenai Peninsula Folk Dancers Association, and these fees ?— while not directly transferable to the supplies account — can be used to supplement shortfalls.

“We also do fundraising to cover deficits,” she said.

Purchasing generic products for cheaper isn’t always an option, since at the elementary school level children may contract an illnesses easily due to their still-developing immune systems, and kids are still learning personal hygiene habits that could prevent germs from spreading.

“We can’t just have soap. We have to have antibacterial soap for the prevention of pink eye and other infectious illnesses,” she said.

The dilemma isn’t unique to Kalifornsky Beach Elementary, according to Melody Douglas, chief financial officer for the district.

With 44 schools in the district and more than 9,360 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade, many schools are experiencing this problem, she said.

“The budget just isn’t moving to match the cost. We’ve been absorbing inflation for years,” she said.

Revenue is largely built on the number of students in the system, and this number is declining while salaries and costs of all supplies — not just custodial ones — are increasing steadily.

Douglas said the amount of the district’s budget that is devoted to supplies is 4 percent overall.

“For fiscal year ’08, the total supply budget is $3.9 million, of which $260,000 is set aside for custodial supplies for all schools in the district,” she said.

This may be small a relatively small amount, but it is an important part of the overall budget.

“You’ve got to have toilet paper,” she said.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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