School enrollment below projection

District dollars dwindle

Posted: Monday, November 27, 2000

Population changes continue to cost peninsula public schools money.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will lose $118,000 from the current year's operating budget because the official enrollment is below projections. How the revenue decline will affect schools is unclear.

Assistant Superintendent Patrick Hickey, the district's business manager, said the shortfall is small enough relative to the large district that the district can probably absorb it without cutting staff or programs.

"We didn't budget for the contingency, but remember that number, $118,000, is less than two-tenths of a percent," he said.

The district's overall annual operating budget is about $73 million. It serves about 10,000 children and has about 1,000 employees.

"Our budget is tight," he said, "but I don't have any sense of alarm."

Last year, enrollment decreases forced the district to chop $764,000 from the budget after school had started.

"I was a lot more nervous last year," Hickey said.

The district's official enrollment this year, 9,963, based on counts in October, is up about 70 from last year's. But it fell about 150 short of anticipated growth.

The enrollment increase is the first for the district in four years, stemming an unprecedented decline that began in 1997. That decline continues in most borough schools.

The district's revenue from the state and the borough is based directly on the number of students, so enrollment declines mean fewer dollars.

Moreover, most of the increasing enrollment has been from higher numbers in the Connections correspondence school program. The district receives fewer dollars for correspondence students than for those in regular classrooms.

Hickey said the district's budget is complex on the dollar-by-dollar level, and several factors will remain unknown until later in the school year.

The state and borough funds pay the bulk of district costs. But small revenue sources operate on a similar order of magnitude to the current enrollment-linked cut. These include the federal "E-rate," which reimburses the district for computer and Internet costs, and the state tuition program, which pays extra money for children who are wards of the state, he said.

On the other side of the equation are unpredictable expenses such as health insurance outlays and paying for substitute teachers, he said.

Whether the $118,000 loss ultimately will require cuts will depend on how such details play out in the coming months, he said.

"I don't want to guess yet," he said.

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