Borough Assembly chambers were packed Monday night, and many of those in attendance approached the lectern to speak in favor of school funding.
The Assembly has told the Ketchikan School District to expect up to $600,000 less this coming budget cycle. The reason for the cut is an expected $2 million reduction in federal Secure Rural Schools funding.
Seventeen of the 25 people speaking to the Assembly on Monday were there to object to the proposed cut. Tension rose early, with an exchange between Becky King, the first speaker, and Assembly Member Agnes Moran, who was participating by phone.
“As a voter, I want to know, if you do not give the School Board what they feel they need to fund schools, what in the borough budget is more important that you’re funding instead of that?” King asked.
Moran later responded, “It’s not that we’re out-prioritizing the school district. We’ve been cut, federal funds, for schools.”
The exchange continued for a while, with neither speaker giving ground. Borough Mayor Dave Kiffer eventually cut off that back-and-forth argument, stating that the time was meant for public comment, and Assembly members would have a chance to speak later.
School Board Member Colleen Scanlon also spoke. She said the Assembly has cut local education funding regularly over the last few years. Assembly Member Mike Painter asked her whether she understood that the economy has been on the decline.
“I would definitely agree that these are tough economic times, but I also think that the borough cut a mill rate continually for several years in a row, and I think it was on the back of the schools,” Scanlon responded.
School funding was not on the Assembly agenda Monday, but the School Board is in the middle of drafting next year’s budget. The completed district budget must be submitted to the Assembly for approval, and it’s up to the Assembly to decide how much beyond the minimum local contribution it will provide for education.
There is a maximum contribution, as well, which is commonly called “the cap.”
In response to Monday’s public comment, the Assembly rejected a proposal to establish a sales-tax holiday on Oct. 12th. It was a split vote, with Assembly Members Agnes Moran, Todd Phillips, Glen Thompson and Mike Painter supporting the motion.
There have been two previous sales-tax holidays in the fall. According to the borough, during each event, more than $800,000 worth of goods was sold in the community. That would have meant about $50,000 in local taxes each year, split between the city and the borough.
The Assembly also decided Monday to move $50,000 from the borough’s general fund into education.