As state lawmakers go through their budget process, the Ketchikan School District is figuring out how to build its budget with even less funding certainty than usual.
The school district is required to submit its budget to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough in May. It’s unlikely the state will have completed its budget process by then.
During a budget work session on Wednesday, the school board talked about what revenue projections it should consider for the 2019-2020 school budget: Worst case? Best case? Something in between?
“Doing those projections this year is a little difficult, under the circumstances,” said District Finance Director Katie Parrott.
She told the board that Alaska’s school funding formula is complicated, and the actual student count is adjusted by various factors to come up with the state’s contribution, which is the largest revenue source for schools.
The state’s Base Student Allocation is then used to establish the range of local school funding allowed.
There’s an upper limit to how much the borough can contribute to public education. Board President Matt Eisenhower noted that the amount Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed cutting from public schools can’t be made up through local funding, because of that limit, or “cap.”
Eisenhower advocated for drafting a worst-case budget. He says if the district builds a more positive-thinking budget, and state funding ends up at the governor’s proposed levels, the district and community will have lost months of planning time.
“I don’t know how to say this more politely. I think our community and teachers deserve me to be bluntly and openly honest,” he said. “If we are not able to retain staff, I want them to know sooner so that they have an advantage over other people in the market.”
Eisenhower says even if the Legislature adds back money for education, there’s no guarantee those lawmakers would be able to override a veto from the governor.
But, he says, there are consequences to letting staff go in the expectation of less funding, if those funds are eventually restored.
Interim Superintendent Beth Lougee says the district is currently holding off on filling open positions when possible, and is keeping a close eye on what the state is doing.
“I think what’s important, budget cuts or not, it was time to start looking at some areas … for our overall budget … of doing things differently than how it’s always been done,” she said. “So, we’re taking a good, strong look at that, too.”
Finance Director Parrott added that if state funding is preserved this year, the message she’s gotten from Juneau is that the cuts will happen next year.
“That was really expressed to us, in terms of: ‘School districts, you might get a year to plan.’ That would be best-case scenario: We get an additional year to plan,” she said.
Through the governor’s proposed cuts to statewide public education, the Ketchikan School District would see a cut of about $6.5 million. The district has said that’s the equivalent of about 70 teaching positions.
The district plans to have a draft budget ready for the school board’s April 10th meeting.
A public-input work session on the district’s budget is set for noon Saturday, March 30, at the Ketchikan High School library.