State funds ease school woes

Money helps, but it doesn't solve district problems for the future

Posted: Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Increases in state spending for education approved by the Alaska Legislature last month were folded into a revised schools budget document at Monday's meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education.

But the additional $3.4 million in state funds and the $786,000 anticipated to come as matching funds from the borough only served to soften the blow of what remains a painfully frugal budget for the 2004-05 school year.

"We are particularly appreciative of the increased funding from the Legislature and the opportunity that it provides to the district to reinstate earlier cuts," said Melody Douglas, chief financial officer for the district. "It will be challenging to address the staff situation at this late date, but we are better off having the opportunity than not."

School District Superintendent Donna Peterson, other district officials and the school board followed Monday's meeting with a day-long planning work session Tuesday, where they faced the realities created by the new budget. Peterson was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

House Bill 233 adopted by the Legislature boosted the base student allocation from $4,169 to $4,576, an increase of $407 per student. About $178 of that will go to cover increase in the public employee and teacher retirement systems. The remaining $229 per student was made available for district needs.

The new district budget will spend just under $81.3 million in state and local funds, plus assorted federal special revenue grants covering such things as transportation and food service, for a bottom line of approximately $99.3 million.

The extra state and local funding did permit the school board to reinstate most of the funding for cocurricular programs. An earlier version of the budget approved in early April before the legislative action anticipated cutting $1.3 million from the cocurricular budget, which would have meant the wholesale elimination of those activities.

The revised budget allocates $1.23 million toward the program but still amounts to a cut of nearly $65,000.

Meanwhile, an anticipated cut of more than $300,000 in the supplies budget was reinstated as a result of the Legislature's action.

Other cuts remain in the budget, including a cut of more than $484,000 the district had hoped to spend on adoptions of new curriculum materials (textbooks and the like), reductions in spending on Internet services, as well as the elimination of a $126,500 food service subsidy.

Also cut were 5.25 full-time equivalent (FTE) teacher positions in the Quest Program, two more FTEs in the district office staff, and five more among site administrators. Added to other staffing adjustments, the district saved just over $600,000.

A further cut of almost $220,000 was made from the Connections Program' (home schooling) supply and equipment budget based on projections of fewer Connections students.

Beyond the reallocation to cocurricular and the reinstatement of the supply funding, the $4.2 million in additional state and local funding also permitted the district to readjust the charter schools budget by $837,000, boost the in-kind budget upward by about $171,500, reduce total health care expenses required under collective bargaining agreements by appropriating $271,000 from the new money, and fund the summer school program with almost $222,500.

The administration also had recommended appropriating some $688,000 to unallocated staffing needs and $692,000 to a contingency fund for utility costs and other unknown expenditures.

However, board President Deb Germano moved to shift $392,000 from the contingency fund to the unallocated staffing line item.

Germano said she knew leaving only $300,000 in the contingency fund was risky, but shifting those dollars to the unallocated budget made more sense.

"As we say when we are out looking for money for our kids, our kids can't wait while we figure everything out," Germano said. True, she added, problems might arise should contingency requirements exceed what's left, but the move would allow the administration to fund more teaching positions without impacting another program. Germano said she was sure the board wanted to do all it could to put money directly into the classrooms.

The board agreed, voting 7-2 to make the shift.

Board member Dr. Nels Anderson then sought to require that three of the positions that money could fund be allocated to high schools that have advanced placement classes in their curricula. That amendment failed, however.

Douglas said the move would allow the administration to add staff where it is most needed without having to include those workers under the district's regular staffing formula.

Running them through the formula "leaves an expectation that they (those jobs) would be ongoing," Douglas said.

There is no way to predict now whether those jobs would remain next year, she said, adding the district may face further staffing reductions in the 2005-06 school year.

In other words, by placing the money in the unallocated staff needs budget item, the board has left it up to the administration to decide where those jobs should be, and the men and women filling them would know there was no guarantee their jobs would be funded beyond the coming year, she said.

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