Federal budget cuts likely will mean less money for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, which in turn likely will mean less money for the Ketchikan School District. That problem was a big topic of conversation at Wednesday’s Ketchikan School Board meeting.
The borough anticipates that the federal government will discontinue its Secure Rural Schools funding program — also called timber receipts — which provides federal funds to small communities next to national forest land. The program was to expire last year, but Congress extended payments through 2012.
The biggest borough expense is education, and the school district has been told to expect a cut to local school funding of about $600,000. That would bring the borough contribution down to $7.7 million.
The district’s total budget for this year was about $36 million, with about $8.3 million in local funds.
Superintendent Robert Boyle told the School Board that a $600,000 hit would lead to significant program cuts. Some of those could be elementary music, middle school art, high school foreign language or vocational classes, and building maintenance.
“$7.7 (million) is disconcerting, and it looks like it could be very troublesome for us,” he said.
Board members expressed concern, and say they hope to rally community support for a larger local contribution. Colleen Scanlon said she wants to call parents, and encourage them to speak to the Assembly.
“The Borough Assembly is elected to do their job, but I feel they have been micromanaging this board and questioning our decisions for far too long,” she said. “There’s a time for a change. I don’t know how to do it, but I’m willing to do whatever I got to do to get that message across so that we get the funding that we need to give these kids the best possible opportunities to set them up for success when they leave our schools.”
Board Member Dave Timmerman stepped down to speak from the lectern as a citizen rather than as an elected board member. He said he wrote a letter about school funding that was published on the online site, Sitnews. Timmerman said he received some advice in a response from one Assembly member.
That member told him they needed different supporters showing up at Assembly meetings, not just teachers and parents.
“I would encourage all board members and anybody else listening to this right now to pound the pavement and get anyone in industry: Large taxpaying people, like – who knows, people who own big businesses and have big taxes with the government – those are the people that certain members of the Assembly are going to need to hear from before they’re gonna budge off their numbers stance,” he said.
Board Member Misty Archibald said she believes the proposed cut is an attempt by the Assembly to send a message to the state. For the past five years, the borough has challenged what it calls state underfunding of basic needs for schools. The borough contends that the state funding formula is unfair, especially toward organized boroughs, and violates the state constitution.
In late January, the Assembly unanimously approved a resolution to continue its challenge of state education funding.
Archibald said that cutting local funding as a political statement would be a mistake.
“I’m appalled. I really am. I’m upset as a parent, I’m livid as a board member,” she said. “Our children are the ones who are going to suffer, and our community in the future will be the ones who suffer. This is going to have an impact for years to come, and it shouldn’t happen.”
The School Board is in the middle of drafting the district’s upcoming budget. Board members encourage the public to attend and offer input. The next two budget meetings are scheduled for March 28 and 30. The time and location will be announced later.