$9 million for district

Budget relief means drastic cuts avoided

Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2007

With $9 million in relief approved by the Legislature and awaiting the governor’s signature, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administrators now are revising next year’s budget to reinstate staffing to current school year levels.

Donna Peterson, the district superintendent, said there are a lot of smiles in the district office this week.

“The first run of (assessment) test results came in. We’re breaking them down, but they look good,” Peterson said. “Between that and getting money from the Legislature, we are in move-forward mode.”

The district’s preliminary budget for the 2007-08 school year called for an increase of four in the pupil:teacher ratio (PTR). The budget included a reduction of 75 teachers, 15 due to declining enrollment and the other 60 due to budget constraints.

Current staffing levels call for a PTR of 20:1 in kindergarten; 22:1 in grades one through three; 26:1 for grades four through six; and 23:1 in grades seven through 12. Small schools with fewer than 100 students have a PTR of 19:1; small schools with between 100 and 200 students have a PTR of 22:1.

Peterson said it is still possible a school might lose a teacher if enrollment has dropped.

The additional funding for the district approved by the Legislature totals about $11 million. It comes in the form of assistance with the district’s obligations to the state retirement systems, additional school improvement grants and funding for 50 percent of the area cost differential amounts proposed in a study done by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Alaska Anchorage — 25 percent in the state’s operating budget, and 25 percent in the capital budget.

Melody Douglas, the district’s chief financial officer, said it amounts to $9 million in “new relief” for the district because 25 percent funding of the ISER study was part of the governor’s proposed budget and was included when the district developed its preliminary budget.

Douglas said the relief will affect not just the general fund, which covers most of the day to day operations of the district, but all district funds. The PRS/TRS relief will appear in the budget as a reduction in expenditures for the district, thereby freeing up money to be spent elsewhere. That reduction also will apply to the district’s grant-funded programs. Some district teachers and programs are paid for through grants, such as the federal Title I program. Benefits for those employees also come out of the grant, so the retirement relief will allow those grants to be stretched a little further.

“When retirement rates change, it changes for all funds. They have to pay the same benefits, so our grants will realize a little relief,” Douglas said.

The district also will be dealing with a significant utility rate increase in the budget for the 2007-08 school year.

Douglas said her current task is translating the changes made by the Legislature into writing in a revised budget. The administration plans to bring the revised budget to the school board during the board’s June 4 meeting at the Borough Building in Soldotna. The revised budget will be available on the district Web site in the school board meeting agenda packet, which is generally posted several days prior to the meeting. The district Web site is www.kpbsd.k12.ak.us.

Douglas said a budget worksession would be conducted for the board prior to the 7 p.m. meeting.

She said the one thing she would like the public to take note of regarding the budget is that the Legislature’s actions are a one-year fix for the district.

A task force has been formed to examine the way the state funds education, and district officials will follow those proceedings closely.

“The challenge for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is far from over,” Douglas said. “We are very interested in the outcome of the legislative task force. The most critical bit of information is for people to not think the conversation is over. It isn’t.”

Will Morrow can be reached at will.morrow@peninsulaclarion.com.



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