Local News

Budget process: Knowns & known unknowns

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Board of Education met last Wednesday, and moved a few budget line items around before approving a first reading of the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

Ketchikan’s school district budget process is full of knowns and known unknowns.

The unknowns that we know about include how many students the district will have next year and how much the Legislature will provide for each of those students.

A proposal in the Senate would increase the base student allocation by $400, but most people consider that unlikely. Another proposal that is making its way through the House has better chances of final approval, and would increase the BSA by $185.

Taking those unknowns into consideration, Superintendent Robert Boyle and other administrators came up with their best projections, and then built a budget around them. The program-based budget is prioritized, with the most important expenses at the top. Here’s Boyle, explaining his “staff versus stuff” budgeting philosophy.

“Staff at the top of the budget, stuff lower down,” he said. “Staff is difficult to arrange for and make changes. So the idea is that we actually use our materials purchases as a reserve account.”

The exception this time, though, is preschool funding. The school district is not required to provide universal preschool, but it has done so for the past few years, in hopes of boosting school performance later.

In the proposed 2015 budget, preschool was placed not only below the red line, but also below the thin black line.

Let me explain: Several lines segment the district’s 2015 budget, indicating which programs are cut at different funding levels. There’s a red line at the $31 million level, which is based on the current BSA. A thin black line a little ways below that is the cutoff level if the Legislature approves its $185 BSA increase.

A thick black line at the bottom of the budget reflects the unlikely $400 BSA increase.

The Legislature isn’t the only consideration, of course. There’s also the local contribution, which is decided by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly. That body has told the School Board to expect $7.8 million, and that’s what the budget was built on. However, the district is going to ask for $8.3 million.

Preschool funding, and where it’s placed in the district budget, became a bit of a political pawn. Here’s Board Member Dave Timmerman.

“I would like to put the preschool items right where the borough has to decide whether they want preschool or not,” he said.

His amendment to move those items right to the thin black line passed, although that placement makes it likely that preschool will be funded without the Assembly increasing what it had planned to provide for local schools.

There were a few more adjustments before the Board approved the budget in first reading. Another hearing will be needed before a final vote. Boyle said he feels positive about next year’s district budget.

“With moving the preschool up to where … we actually expect our projection, administration respects and compliments the board on that decision,” he said. “I like the budget.”

Boyle said there should be fewer unknowns by the School Board’s April 23 meeting, when a final vote will take place. The district must submit its budget to the Borough Assembly for review by May 1.

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