The Ketchikan School Board on Wednesday approved a first reading of the district’s FY20 draft budget, reflecting a reduction from the status quo of about 3 percent.
A status-quo spending plan would cost about $41.6 million. The draft budget calls for spending about $40.4 million.
The bulk of the district’s revenue comes from the state, and that funding is nearly impossible to predict at this point. The governor has proposed a significant cut to education, a move that many legislators oppose. The state budget fight likely will continue past the district’s May 1st deadline to submit its own budget to the borough for approval.
Borough funding for schools is the next largest revenue source. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly indicated to the school board earlier this year that it would fund schools about $5.7 million above the required local contribution. That required minimum level of local school funding is $4.8 million.
But that, too, isn’t set in stone.
“That’s what makes our job very difficult,” said Board President Matt Eisenhower. “We’re now having to guess two things: How much will our state contribute to our budget and how much will the borough? I feel more confident in our borough contribution than the state.”
Other board members expressed frustration with the process.
“To design a budget based on not having any idea what you’re working with is insane,” said Board Member Here’s Bridget Mattson. “Both from the borough and from the state. I think that legally, I’m hoping that maybe this sheds some light and it can change. Because this is untenable. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s not right in our borough and it’s certainly not right in our state. It’s not right to play with people’s lives like this.”
While the board didn’t amend the proposed draft budget, members did talk about whether a 3-percent cut was enough. Eisenhower said the question is: if they guess wrong, what’s easier to fix?
“If we guess wrong and our budget is dramatically slashed, that means some really, really hard decisions in July and August, a month to two months away from school starting,” he said. “If we guess wrong the other way, the fix seems to me less painful, of hiring back teachers.”
Mattson leaned toward amending the budget with a larger spending reduction. Board Member Rachel Breithaupt, though, said she prefers to move forward with the proposed draft budget, and then fight for it.
“I just feel belligerent to not dance with crazy,” she said. “I’m just feeling really belligerent about it.”
She said sometimes she has to go with her gut, and it’s telling her to not cut more from local education.
In the end, the board voted 5-1 to introduce the draft budget without any amendments. Mattson was the only no vote.
The draft budget cuts about $560,000 from teacher salaries. Finance Director Katie Parrott told the board much of that is from teacher retirements and some job shifting. Other positions in instructional support and support staff are currently vacant and will remain unfilled.
Some district costs went up, mostly due to recent negotiated agreements with district bargaining groups.
The draft FY20 Ketchikan School District budget will come back to the school board during its regular meeting on April 24.