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Survey seeks public's ideas

Posted: Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is seeking public input for its 2004-05 budget.

Facing yet another year of financial shortfalls, the district has developed a short survey for community members and employees to identify their priorities for next year.

Participants are asked to identify themselves only as either community member or employee. Then, they are asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 the various areas they think should be considered for reduction in the budget. Possible savings mechanisms listed include reducing personnel costs, increasing class sizes, consolidating schools, eliminating programs, reducing or eliminating cocurricular funding and adjusting health insurance.

Participants also are allotted space to provide comments on each funding area and additional ideas.

"The purpose of the survey is to get a sense of priorities from the public and employee groups," said Melody Douglas, the district's chief financial officer. "Then we can do some compilation of data and perhaps get some help with the decision-making."

As in past years, the decision-making is not likely to be an easy task for district administrators and school board members. That's because the district once again is entering the budget cycle with a deficit.

Last year, the district dealt with budget shortfalls by increasing the pupil-teacher ratio saving about $3.3 million, but increasing class sizes much to the chagrin of teachers and parents and eliminating cocurricular travel budgets. The district also held several conversations about possible school consolidations not a popular option among most community members and decided to close Nikiski Elementary School after this school year.

Douglas said she believes the district is entering this year's budget cycle with a deficit slightly smaller than the $5 million previously estimated. That's because, though enrollment is down from last year, the district did bring in more students than it expected.

The additional students, most of whom joined the district's home-school program Connections, may not make a huge difference in funding, but the money will decrease the deficit a bit, Douglas said.

Likewise, a proposal before the borough assembly to set up a borough-funded special revenue fund for cocurricular activities also could reduce the district's expenses by about $1.4 million.

Still, health care and retirement costs are on the rise, as are salaries after last year's contract negotiations.

That's why the district needs public input, Douglas said.

Surveys are available at the district's central office at 148 N. Binkley St. in Soldotna, at each school in the district and online at www.kpbsd.k12.ak.us, under the "Budget Review Committee" link. Surveys should be returned to Lassie Nelson, an administrative secretary at the central office.

Also on the Web site are applications for the district's annual budget review committee, which will provide feedback throughout the budget cycle. The committee will work through the preliminary budget, meeting mostly through January.

Douglas said more applications still are needed for community members interested in sitting on the committee.

Surveys and committee applications are due by Monday.



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