Funding tops school district's priority list

Posted: Friday, November 08, 2002

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will dip into reserve funds to cover a 100-student shortage in enrollment and the cost of a new charter school.

The school board approved a budget revision Monday night that increases the district general operating budget to $76.6 million from $76.5 million.

The revision was necessary because the district came up about 100 students short of the 2002-03 enrollment projection, which means it loses $228,279 in state formula funding, $66,303 in borough funding and $486 in state Learning Opportunity Grant money.

The Montessori Charter School, which was approved by the state Department of Education and Early Development after the original budget was approved, also needed to be included in the district's annual accounting plan. The board approved $211,483 for the charter school.

To make up for the decreased revenue and added expense, the budget revision cut $101,287 from Connections, the district's home school, distance-learning program. According to Melody Douglas, the district's chief financial officer, the program will not need that money because it is under its projected enrollment.

The revision also allocates $464,778 of the district's fund balance for the 2002-03 budget. The fund balance is a sort of savings account, where the district stores excess funds from year to year. The allocation leaves about $836,214 of undesignated money in the fund balance.

Douglas, who prepared the recommended revision, said last week that the district needs to be careful about using fund balance money to pay for recurring expenses, but that it was necessary in the light of the drop in enrollment.

Also Monday night, the board approved an enrollment projection for the 2003-04 school year. Enrollment projections are based on trends from previous years and are important to budgeting, as state funding is provided on a per-student basis.

According to a memo submitted to the board by Douglas, district enrollment has dropped about 2 percent each year for the last five years. She recommended that the board approve a projected enrollment of 9,419 students for the 2003-04 school year. That projection is 2.5 percent less than current enrollment.

"The district does not have the resources to cover the decline in revenue resulting from unrealized enrollment projections," she wrote, advocating the conservative approach to the projection.

In other action Monday night,

n The board approved a draft calendar to be used as a guideline for preparing the 2003-04 district budget.

n The board approved a budget transfer of $1.7 million from the Department of Education and Early Development. The transfer allocates Learning Opportunity Grant funds to pay for math and science textbooks; the middle school school-within-a-school program; computer assisted instruction; educational standards implementation; Alaska On-Line program for distance instruction; and summer school reading and math programs.

n The board approved new teacher assignments for Erik Peter Larson, special education and resource teacher at Kenai Middle School; Stephanie Tauzell-Roberts, temporary kindergarten teacher at the Montessori Charter School; and Steven R. Baldeshwiler, special education and resource teacher at Skyview High School.

n The board approved a resolution regarding inequities in state funding to be addressed at the Association of Alaska School Board annual conference.

n The board approved a list of 2003 state and federal legislative priorities (see related story, page A-1).

n The board presented a first reading of a number of minor policy revisions to the board bylaws portion of the district policy manual. The board systematically reviews the policy manual. A second reading of the policy revisions will be presented at a future meeting. The text of the revisions is available online by visiting, clicking on "board packet and agenda information" and following the link to the Nov. 4 board meeting.

HEAD:School board OKs revisions to budget


BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's No. 1 concern for the year is funding, according to a list of federal and state priorities approved by the school board Monday night.

The legislative priorities list is the district's way of letting elected officials know what is most important to improving the education situation in the borough, said district assistant superintendent Todd Syverson.

The list will be forwarded to the borough to be included in its packet of priorities, which will be sent to the state Legislature and Congress.

The district's first priority at the state level is changing the state funding formula to "assure a quality educational experience for all Alaskan children," according to the list.

"Our battle cry for multiple years has been to substantially increase the base student allocation," explained Syverson.

He said the district wants the Legislature to increase the per-student amount it provides school districts statewide and to inflation-proof the funding formula.

"We don't feel the dollars from Juneau keep up with increases in cost of living, energy costs and other expenses," he said. "Every year we go back and say we need more help. If they would inflation-proof (the formula), we wouldn't have to keep going back. It's the responsible thing to do."

Another part of the district's proposed solution is to place state Learning Opportunity Grants within the funding formula. The amount of money the state grants the district through the funding formula directly impacts the amount the borough is allowed to contribute to the district. If the Learning Opportunity Grants, which also come to the district from the state, were included in that formula, then the borough could choose to contribute more money as well.

"The borough is fantastic about supporting the schools, with both facilities and funding," Syverson said.

He noted that the borough consistently funds the school district at the "cap" -- the maximum amount allowed by law. If the Learning Opportunity Grants were part of the funding formula, the borough would at least have the opportunity to help the district even more, Syverson said.

The district also wants the state Legislature to fully fund all mandates, especially things like ever-increasing state-required testing and benchmarks.

"It sometimes cost money to implement and administer those tests," Syverson said. "We're already strapped, so if they are going to pass new mandates, they should be responsible and give us the money (to meet those requirements)."

Finally, and possibly most important, the district wants the state to revise the Education Funding Formula and, specifically, the area cost differential.

"The area cost differential doesn't make sense," Syverson said. "We have Bush schools, but the (Matanuska-Susitna Borough District) is funded better than we are. No one can explain to us why that is."

Syverson said a study is currently under way to analyze the area cost differential, and the district hopes the Legislature will take it under advisement.

"We are hoping the Legislature will change the area cost differential to recognize that we do have remote schools and to fund us appropriately so we don't have to rob Peter to pay Paul," Syverson said.

The district also is recommending that the funding formula be modified to reflect attendance for alternative, charter and correspondence programs; to increase the 20 percent allocation for special education, vocational education and bilingual programs; and to increase the intensive needs funding multiplier to "more realistically represent the cost of educating students with intensive needs."

A second district priority for the state Legislature is adopting of "At the Cap Circuit Breaker" legislation. This legislation would serve as a sort of incentive program for districts that have consistently acted with fiscal responsibility, but still need additional help.

The circuit breaker legislation would award an additional 5 percent in foundation aid to districts that meet the following criteria for at least three consecutive years: the percentage of state aid has remained flat; the amount of dollars and percentage of local funding is the maximum allowed by law; the district meets state statute by allocating 70 percent of the budget to teaching costs and 30 percent to administrative costs; and the central office administrative costs are less than 5 percent.

According to data prepared by the district, the KPBSD has consistently met and exceeded these criteria. For the past four years, the percentage of district revenue supplied by state foundation aid has decreased from 58.8 percent to 55.4 percent. The borough has funded the district at the maximum amount allowed by law, and borough aid has accounted for about 40 percent of the district budget. The remainder of district revenue has come from federal sources and grant awards.

More than 71 percent of the district budget has gone to instructional costs, while less than 29 percent is administrative costs, and the central office administrative costs have been right around 4 percent since 1999.

According to the district figures, if this legislation existed, the KPBSD would receive an additional $2 million from the state, and the borough would have the option to increase its funding by $460,000 for the 2002-03 school year.

At the federal level, the district wants legislators to recognize Alaska's need for flexibility in the Leave No Child Behind legislation passed by President George W. Bush. Syverson explained that most area schools meet the criteria for the legislation, but that the law may not recognize that rural schools could need leniency in meeting some of the imposed time lines.

The district also wants the federal government to fully fund its mandates, specifically the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. According to data included in the priority list, Congress originally promised to fund up to 40 percent of the excess costs of the act, but has so far covered about 17 percent of the costs nationally.

Syverson said the government needs to make sure schools have the money to adequately care for students with disabilities, and that the paperwork associated with dealing with these students needs to be reduced or simplified so teachers and administrators can focus on education.

Finally, the district wants federal help in improving and paving East End Road in Homer to the Russian village schools. The condition of the road prevents school buses from traveling to Razdolna, Voznesenka and Kachemak Selo schools, which means students have limited opportunities to make use of facilities in Homer and participate in school-to-work programs, Syverson said. The road conditions also often make it difficult for staff members to get to the schools. He added the need for improvements to the road is especially clear in light of recent flooding in the area.

The school board approved the priority list at its twice-monthly meeting Monday night in Seward.

"It's a way for the district to let the borough know what our priorities are," Syverson said. "And the borough works hard lobbying to get those for the district."

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