The Ketchikan Gateway Borough School Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve a first reading of the 2014 district budget.
After a number of amendments proposed by Board Member Stephen Bradford and others, the budget that emerged would prevent a loss of any staff in the school district and in fact would add a number of positions lost last year. The budget passed by the Board also would maintain funding for activities, despite earlier plans to cut those funds in hopes that the Borough Assembly would provide a grant to make up the difference.
The Board and Superintendent Robert Boyle stressed the need to prioritize staff and programs in the budget. Accordingly, one area that saw a significant decrease was curriculum and materials funding, which pays for items such as new textbooks. The Board reduced that to $90,000 from last year’s funding level of a little more than $300,000.
The board also chose to cut – entirely – budget projections for in-kind services from the borough. Those services include fire protection for schools, use of the aquatic center and more. Those contractual services cost the district more than $500,000 dollars last year. Stephen Bradford, who proposed the cut, said that until those contracts were extended for next year, the cost should not be included in the budget.
But, in an interview Thursday, Borough Assembly Member Glen Thompson notes that the ultimate cost for those contractual services will have to be negotiated with the Assembly.
“They can certainly put their budget together any which way they want, typically what they’ll do is they’ll pass the budget they desire,” he said. “Contractual services I think was also tied with a grant we gave them last year. So we’ll have to look and see what they actually passed and then there will be some negotiations going back and forth on it I’m sure.”
George Tipton, a former member of both the School Board and Borough Assembly, spoke during the public hearing on the budget. He criticized the Board’s efforts to put pressure on the Borough by splitting activities funding in half.
“How could this even be brought forward? It seems like a conflict to me,” Tipton said. “I can remember in the near past where this board put half of activities above the line and half below to try and put the pressure on the borough. That’s not their job to do that, that’s your job.”
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the Board postponed a vote on a purchase of 60 laptops for elementary schools.
Board Member Misty Archibald explains why she wants to know whether a cheaper alternative is possible before spending $60,000.
“I’d like to see more questions asked at these meetings on these purchases,” Archibald said. “This was one of the big reasons I ran for the board, is that questions weren’t being asked and thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars were being spent and I didn’t know why.”
Also on Wednesday night, the Board voted unaminously to approve a three- year contract with Superintendent Boyle. Before the vote, Board Member Bradford drew attention to Boyle’s salary, which at $126,000 a year, is lower than the average superintendent’s pay in Southeast Alaska. Boyle responded by saying that he is happy in Ketchikan.