The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly approved a budget for the Ketchikan School District on Monday, without adding more funds that had been requested by school officials.
Superintendent Robert Boyle asked the Assembly to hold the district harmless from state funding reductions. He wanted Assembly members to take about half a million from what the borough planned to put into a school reserves fund, and instead put it into this year’s school district budget.
“The state cut the district’s budget by $931,000. Adding in items such as the construction academy reductions, obesity grant reductions that hit us sideways, our cuts have come in to over a million dollars,” he said. “The ordinance as is currently stands responds with $347,000.”
The school reserves fund now has about $1.2 million, and the borough will add about $1.7 million to that this year. Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst said his recommendation of a $340,000 transfer from reserves represents a reasonable compromise, with a plan for the future.
“You can see the frustration, the difficulty that legislators are having currently,” he said. “It’s not an easy thing to solve. So, it’s taking that balance of the schools reserve fund and allocating it over a five-year period.”
State oil revenue shortfalls have led to drastic budget cuts by Alaska lawmakers, affecting all parts of the state. While the state budget is still under debate, there’s no question education will face cuts.
Boyle told the Assembly what the recommended borough funding level likely will mean to the district.
“Cuts to our curriculum materials, our activities programs, our school supplies, our technology instruction, maintenance and operations supplies. The supply budgets to our schools are cut in half without additional support from the Assembly,” he said.
The Assembly unanimously approved the school district budget, without the additional appropriation.
Also Monday, the Assembly approved the general borough budget, after spending a lot of time considering a variety of amendments. Most of the cost-cutting proposals focused on grants to community nonprofit organizations.
A motion by Assembly Member Alan Bailey called for reducing all community agency grants by 25 percent.
Assembly Member Bill Rotecki argued that money given to nonprofits is multiplied tenfold. He says the agencies leverage local grants to bring outside funding into the community for important programs.
“If the borough were to undertake any of those operations in these community grants, it probably would cost us 2, 3, 4 times as much to do the same things that they do, and we would hire people who may or may not care,” he said. “They’re just there for the job and the good health care.”
The motion to reduce funding across the board passed 4-3. Voting no were Rotecki, Todd Phillips and Jim Van Horn.
A series of motions was offered after that to completely eliminate funding for specific nonprofits. They included Southeast Alaska Independent Living, the summer library program, Ketchikan Youth Initiatives, Love in Action, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Ketchikan Wellness Coalition. All those motions failed.
The Assembly later voted to reduce the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce grant by $15,000, and then put that money toward the University of Alaska testing center.
The Assembly also agreed to eliminate $3,500 for food at Assembly meetings, and transferred those funds back to community grants. There was talk of cutting salaries for Assembly members, but that would require a code change, so it couldn’t be brought forward Monday.
After all the amendments were considered, the overall budget passed 6-1 with Rotecki voting no.
In other matters, the Assembly unanimously approved a zoning-change request from the City of Saxman, allowing mobile buildings in all areas except for residential zones.
Monday’s meeting was unusually long, and Assembly members had to vote to extend it twice. The entire meeting lasted five hours and 43 minutes.