The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Board of Education unanimously approved its second and final reading of the district’s 2014 operating budget last night. The total came in at almost $30.2 million.
If it makes it through a Borough Assembly review, the budget would prevent the widely-feared cuts to staff, activities and supplies discussed earlier this year. That feat is largely dependent on a number of exclusions to the budget, however. It is unclear how the Assembly will react to those changes, which could alter the Board’s projections.
A potential sticking point is so-called “contractual services,” assets that the district uses that technically belong to the borough. Those include access to the aquatic center by children in the school district and fire protection for the schools. They cost the district more than half a million dollars last year, and were removed from this year’s budget.
At one point during the meeting, Board Member David Timmerman stopped the budget proceedings to comment on the contractual services.
“So what’s our budget? What are we doing here?” asked Timmerman. “We’re paying for things we probably shouldn’t be paying for.”
Board Member Stephen Bradford, who had spearheaded the effort to remove those services from the budget at the last meeting, proposed a number of new amendments to further reduce the District’s budget, but at the risk of rankling the Borough Assembly.
One of those amendments moves building insurance below the last line on the District’s budget. Stephen Bradford explained that because the buildings themselves do not belong to the District it should not be billed for insurance on those buildings.
The line item in the District’s budget for building insurance was $200,000.
Bradford proposed another amendment to also move fees for snow removal below the line. The cost for that item stands at almost $39,000.
The budget as passed would require a $7.6 million contribution from the borough, which is less than the $7.7 million that the Assembly had told the School Board to expect. However, if fees for building insurance, snow removal and contractual services are ultimately put back into the district’s budget, the School Board will likely begin cutting into its priority list. Those items include $200,000 for activities, and money for the supply budget, which includes new textbooks.
The Borough Assembly will review the School District budget and hand down a final funding amount by June.
Also last night, the School Board pushed off a decision to spend more than $60,000 on new laptops for Point Higgins and Houghtaling Elementary Schools.
Penny Ranniger, a library specialist at Houghtaling, made an impassioned plea to the School Board during citizen remarks to upgrade the computers in the school system.
“How many of you own a cell phone?” Ranniger asked. “Do you have the same cellphone you had 14 years ago? And if you do, how do you keep it running?”
Board Member Misty Archibald asked to see more information on the cost of Apple computers compared to cheaper alternatives.
The School Board will address the issue of new laptops at its next meeting on May 8th.