School board looks to future budget

Posted: Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education on Monday discussed plans to seek more public involvement in decisions about the 2005-06 budget and the future of cocurricular activities in the district.

The district has entered the budget process millions of dollars in the red for the last several years and, despite increases in state education funding last year, the coming year is likely to be more of the same.

The Alaska Legislature and Gov. Frank Murkowski this spring approved a $407 increase to the per-pupil funding formula, adding about $7 million to the 2004-05 KPBSD coffers. However, before legislative action was taken, KPBSD chief financial officer Melody Douglas said the district needed at least $500 more per student to hold even.

That means with increased salaries and health-care costs, plus other rising expenses, the district probably will enter this year's budget planning pro-cess with another deficit.

School officials said last month, when they first began discussing changes to the budget cycle, that the current planning process often leaves the public with a sense they have little input on the district's financial plan. In past years, a budget review committee has gone through a preliminary draft of the coming year's budget, but money has been so tight that adjustments have been hard to come by.

Under the new plan, a budget review committee will be convened in October to learn about the budget process, hear reports from various district departments and look through the current year budget for ways to make changes in next year's document.

Only after the committee has given their input will district officials begin outlining the 2005-06 budget. Then, the public will once again have an opportunity to comment on the preliminary document in forums held around the peninsula before it is approved by the school board and borough assembly.

"We very clearly need to do things a bit differently," Douglas told the board during a work session Monday afternoon. "The most significant change is a very clear delineation of when we're doing this (hearing from the public) in relation to the development of the budget. ... Ordinarily, we're putting it together with the understanding that we're in a tight box. The perception is that people have no input."

Douglas said she hopes to bring together a large group of people from throughout the peninsula for three to four days of education and small-group brainstorming.

"Personally, I'm thrilled," she said. "It's going to be a large group to work with, but the input is good."

In general, board members said they were pleased with the plan, though they raised questions about the possibility of teleconferences for participants in outlying areas and mentioned concerns about getting people to commit to several days of working with the committee.

A final draft of the committee schedule will be developed in the coming weeks, so members of the public can sign up for the committee before the Sept. 15 deadline for the October meetings.

In a similar vein, board members discussed plans to deal with cocurricular activities. With the ever-tightening district budget, cocurricular activities have come up on the chopping block repeatedly over the past several years.

Two task forces already have met to determine the value of the activities for students (which board members agreed is immeasurable) and to look for ways to fund the activities outside the general budget.

The most recent task force led to a ballot measure last year asking voters to approve borough funding for activities. That measure failed, and the school district is left to decide if and how to fund sports and academic programs for youth.

Under a plan presented to the board Monday, a new task force would be called to review how the programs currently are operated and to seek funding mechanisms for the programs. However, board members disagreed on just what the new task force should be asked to accomplish.

Board member Nels Anderson, who sat on the last two cocurricular task forces, said a task force isn't needed to re-view the value of the programs or whether the district wants to fund them; both questions are obvious. The problem is how to come up with the money to ensure the programs can continue to exist.

Board President Deb Germano, however, noted she feels more investigation is needed into current operations. For example, she said, the school district currently pays about $1.3 million in coaches' stipends, but money for uniforms, travel and other team expenses often comes from booster clubs. Without more information on money raised by community members, the board doesn't have a complete picture of how the programs really work, she said.

The board decided to hold off on a task force and instead have a work session at the next meeting to explore the unanswered questions surrounding the programs questions such as how much money individual school programs get from the district and from other sources and where that money goes.

In other news Monday, the board:

Received Superintendent Donna Peterson's annual report on the state of the school district. The report, published in brochure format, outlines highlights from the 2003-04 school year and upcoming plans for the 2004-05 year.

Approved John M. Cook's appointment as principal-teacher at Chapman Elementary School.

Approved new teacher assignments for Kate Biegert, special education, Nikiski Middle-Senior High; J. Luanne Bressler, grades four and five, Soldotna Elementary; Charity R. Winters, special education, Seldovia, Nanwalek and Port Graham; and Timothy D. Winters, secondary generalist, Susan B. English School.

Approved tenure status for Katrina Cannava, Title I reading teacher, Soldotna Elementary; and Jill DuFloth, grade six teacher, Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School.

Approved nontenured teacher assignments for Naomi Fischer, science and math, Seward Middle and Seward High; Jennifer Haddix, temporary grade five and six teacher, Ninilchik; Michael Houghton, math and social studies, Voznesenka; Jennifer R. McDonald, language arts and social studies, Seward Middle and Seward High; and Leah Dubber, secondary generalist, Susan B. English School.

Approved the resignation of Charmaine J. Lundy, grade one and two teacher at North Star Elementary School.

Approved revisions to Board Policies 4119.12 and 5137 to add the language "or any other real or perceived difference," to clarify nonharassment policies.

Appointed board member Debbie (Holle) Brown to the physical education curriculum review committee.

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