Peggy Wilson spent most of a meeting with Borough Assembly members last week answering questions about education funding in Ketchikan.
The Assembly, along with Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst, has been exploring ways to have the state fund more of the borough’s school budget. The local proposal would reduce or repeal what is known as the “required local contribution,” an amount mandated by the state that boroughs in Alaska must pay for their schools.
Bockhorst and the Assembly say that violates the state Constitution, which says that basic needs for schools in Alaska will be funded entirely by the state government.
Pushing state lawmakers to make a change in that equation is now the official policy of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly. That push was on full display last week, when Representative Wilson was pressed on the issue to a point where she refused to answer any more questions about it.
“I want you to know that that’s just the way it is and it’s not gonna change real soon,” Wilson said. “So I’m done talking about it.”
Wilson, who sits on the state’s House Education Committee, says she has asked members of that body to come to Ketchikan, tour the schools, and hear the Assembly’s concerns.
But, Wilson warned Assembly members and Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst last week, the state’s finances are not healthy enough to take on the additional burden of funding more for schools.
“Because the state is just like you guys,” Wilson said to the Assembly. “The state is in the same boat because the revneue is not it should be, the revenue has been dropping every year.”
Borough Manager Bockhorst disagrees, however. He says that with recent boasting from state officials about the health of Alaska’s economy, there should be room to fund schools.
“In the last two consecutive years prior to the current fiscal issues, the commissioner of the Department of Revenue has issued press releases lauding thew state’s growing fiscal strength,” Bockhorst told Wilson.
In an interview with KRBD, Representative Wilson elaborated on her pessimism about the school funding issue, saying that past attempts by state legislators to change it were unsuccessful.
“When (State Senator) Bert Stedman was in the highest position possible for several years he wasn’t able to do it,” Wilson said. “But you just keep going and you never give up, and sometimes people give in because they’re tired of hearing about it.”
Wilson also expressed concern about state revenue, which is likely to drop over the next few years as a result of changes to the oil production tax.
She also spoke to the challenges of representing Ketchikan.
“Ketchikan is very different than what I’ve dealt with,” Wilson said. “One of the big things is getting used to the city and borough having entities to their own selves. And that’s hard to handle because they’re both vying for some of the same funds.”
Wilson, a veteran lawmaker from the much-smaller Wrangell, became Ketchikan’s representative following redistricting last year.