Despite misgivings, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly opted Monday to approve the Ketchikan School District’s spending authority by about $2.4 million.
In his regular education report to the Assembly, Superintendent Robert Boyle addressed the budget debate. He said the entire budget is posted on the district’s website for anyone to look at, and it includes all the details anyone might want.
“The budget is sound, and it is balanced,” he said.
The motion to increase the district’s budget has been postponed twice because of disagreement over an apparent $437,652 disparity between what the district plans to spend and what it expects to receive.
School district officials say there isn’t a disparity. Boyle told the Assembly that the district simply plans to spend less than it could.
“We expect to have our reserve carry forward – it’ll be in the $500,000 range,” he said. “And we will have unspent revenue that’ll be in the $400,000-plus range … that will be allocated for FY15.”
Some on the Assembly weren’t satisfied with Boyle’s explanation. Assembly Member Agnes Moran said it appears that the school district is artificially inflating its budget.
She notes that the district wasn’t able to carry over reserves in the past, and back then, padding the budget was a way for the district to make sure it had money for emergencies.
“I just disagree with having an inflated side of a budget that supposedly has items in there that they have no intention of spending,” she said. “That just goes against the initial reason for even doing the 5 percent allowance for the reserve. There’s a choice here – maybe we rethink the 5 percent allowance if we’re not getting the other half, which is true and realistic budgets.”
The School Board is in charge of drafting the school district’s budget, but the Assembly decides how much of the borough’s property tax will go toward schools each year and must approve the district’s spending plan. Assembly Member Todd Phillips said that’s an important responsibility.
“We hear the word micromanaging a lot,” he said. “I just want people to understand that we’re responsible for the expenditures of property taxes, and have to answer to people. These people have a right to know where the money is coming from, where it is being spent.”
Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst had recommended that the Assembly approve the spending increase despite disagreement over how the district builds its budget. He noted in a memo that continuing to postpone the increase could disrupt the school district’s operations.
The motion passed 5-2, with Moran and Phillips voting no. That puts this year’s Ketchikan School District budget at $44.47 million.