Budget talk dominated the regular Ketchikan Gateway Borough School Board meeting on March 27 as board members discussed how to construct a budget with the least amount of staff reductions possible.

The Board heard reports from administrators on how a potential loss of staff would affect their curricula and facilities. Sam Nelson, principal of Ketchikan High School, noted that the loss of a teacher likely would result in the loss of an entire program.

An additional hit to maintenance staff at Kayhi, Nelson adds, would be difficult to manage, given that the school’s janitors already been have making do with little support.

“We’re still running 550 kids through the building and we’re already down two janitors from where we were two years ago,” Nelson said. “They’ve gone out and cleaned the parking lot when we’ve asked them, teachers are bagging up their garbage and setting them by the door so janitors can get around to do that. We’re doing what we have to do to get the job done, but if you wander around the school it’s not as clean as it used to be.”

Although no formal action was taken on the budget, Board members and Superintendent Robert Boyle batted around a number of ideas to lessen the blow of a potential cut to the district’s budget.

In his report to the board, Boyle floated a scenario in which the board would present the borough with a $7.7 million budget – which is what the Borough has recommended – except with a request for a $500,000 grant for activities, such as sports. Such a scenario, Boyle said, would avoid staff cuts.

Board Member Stephen Bradford points out that the school board is required by law to fund only K–12 programs. So, he says, the board could fund K–12 at its current level, but cut the district’s preschool program.

Board Member Misty Archibald expressed support for the idea although both members note it is just an idea.

In the midst of the budget discussion, Board President Ginny Clay makes clear what the members are getting at.

“I think we need to cut to the chase here, OK? The 7.7 was a suggestion from the borough, that was not our suggestion,” said Clay. “And I appreciate that you can show us what 7.7 is gonna get us, but that’s not what we’re gonna ask for.”

Also in hopes of boosting the budget, the Board asked Fast Track Principal Bill Whicker to provide more specifics at a later date about how to increase enrollment in the Revilla Alternative School blended program. Despite Whicker noting that the task would be “monumental,” board members encouraged increased advertisement of the program.

If the blended program between Fast Track and Revilla reaches the required 175 students, it would be counted as a separate school in the borough and fall into a different category for state funding, creating a potential windfall for the district’s strapped finances.

Superintendent Boyle was quick to urge caution though, saying that even if the blended program reaches the enrollment threshold, it already is too late to acquire those funds for the 2014 budget.

The School Board and the Borough Assembly have been talking, at times in a heated manner, about the district’s budget needs, with the Assembly indicating that a cut is likely.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Board Member Ralph Beardsworth took time to criticize media reports of the budget process, calling reports in the press that pit the Board versus the Borough Assembly “sensationalist” and “unprofessional.”

Board Member David Timmerman countered Beardsworth’s charge later in the evening, saying he thinks the opposite of media reports regarding the budget.

“I guess I just want to respond to what Ralph said earlier,” Timmerman said. “And I understand what you’re saying, but I actually thought the paper, radio, whoever, could actually report it more strongly. I feel very passionately about where we sit with the budget, I see it reduced year after year even whereas our student count seems to be pretty stable maybe even rising as the reserves grow.”

“I understand where you’re coming from, but I just want to warn you that I tend to be a 3rd grader every once in awhile,” he added.

Also Wednesday, the School Board voted unanimously on a resolution calling for Internet access for students on the Alaska Marine Highway System ferries. It also unanimously approved the purchase of 45 MacBook Air laptops for Schoenbar Middle School’s One-to-One program at a cost of $50,000.