The Ketchikan School District seal is on display at the superintendent’s office. (KRBD file photo by Leila Kheiry)

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District’s budget and state education funding were topics discussed last week during a Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

School Board President Matt Eisenhower opened the presentation saying May 1st was the deadline to submit the FY20 district budget to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. The borough will determine its contribution but, with state funding uncertain, Eisenhower says putting together a budget was difficult.

“In most years, we have a pretty good feeling as to what the state is going to give us from a revenue standpoint. And keep in mind, nearly three-quarters of our entire revenue comes from the state.”

Eisenhower says if the state provides flat funding, the district will be in good shape.  But, he says, funding has remained flat for about five years, so this doesn’t account for cost of inflation. Eisenhower says in preparing the budget, “stuff” was cut over “staff.”

“..because people are what matters. But I’ve been telling people recently, ‘We’re out of stuff.’ There’s so little stuff in our school district now. That does impact education. There’s no more stuff, and now it’s staff and people in the classroom that will ultimately need to be cut if the trajectory of our state funding stays the same.”

School district business manager Katie Parrott says school funding in Alaska is different from many other states. She says it’s based on student count adjusted for factors such as school and district size.

“We also get multipliers in our average daily membership for special needs, vocational and technical programming, intensive needs students and correspondence students.”

She discussed an increase in spending trends for the past four years. Parrott says spending has increased primarily in regular and special education instruction.

The number of intensive needs students has increased over the past several years. Eisenhower says funds received by the state for those students are 13 times higher than those for others.

“That gives you an understanding of how intensive the needs are of those students. And we’ve gone since 2014 to the present year, over double the amount of intensive needs students in our district. The good thing is the revenue comes with that, but the support for those students is intense, and it’s dramatically changed the way our district is set up.”

When asked why there is a large increase in intensive needs students, both Parrott and Eisenhower believe it’s because the district has done a better job of identifying them. Eisenhower says additional funding is not provided for special education students, other than intensive needs students.

Parrott says intensive needs students require one-on-one instruction, so a large part of spending increases in the district over the past few years was in personnel. She says the increase illustrates the district’s response to the needs of the students.

“You’re not seeing huge increases in administration. You’re not seeing huge increases other places. You’re really seeing those increases that match the programming that’s going to the students.”

Parrott discussed what the impacts to the district would be, based on the governor’s proposed budget. She says if implemented, a dramatic restructuring of Ketchikan’s education system would be necessary and probably would require closing schools. Parrott says some funding solutions may come from the Legislature, but the district knows there will be cuts and is planning for it.

“We’re trying to have no stone unturned within our existing budget to see where we can leverage existing funds and streamline some programming to do things a little bit differently.”

Parrott says along with losing $6.4 million in state foundation funding, the school district would have to find a way to absorb $2.36 million if the school debt reimbursement funding is eliminated as proposed.

Given uncertainties, Parrott says, in preparing the FY 20 Ketchikan School District budget, goals were defined. She says first and foremost was making “student-centered” decisions.

“If it’s going to be hard for the adults versus the students, then we’re going to make it harder for us, as the adults, and try to lessen the impact on the students.”

She says strategic goals also were a focus. These are rigorous and relevant instruction, safety and well-being, and trust and communication. Parrott says other important considerations were maintaining continuity of programming while finding efficiencies, meeting contractual obligations, and encouraging community input.

“We have a budget right now. That might change between now and June as Matt discussed. And, we might be in the same situation next year. This might be an on-going communication that we’re going to have to have, and we want to know what kind of education system the community wants in Ketchikan.”

She says the FY20 budget approved by the school board is slightly higher than the current, revised budget for this year. Parrott says most cuts made were in district-wide expenses and distributed through all line items. She says approximately $1.5 million was reallocated within existing funds to minimize an increased funding request to the borough.

“We understand that the community is concerned about taxes. We know that the community is concerned about us being good stewards of their resources. We know that in this time we are wanting to preserve our reserves and keep those funds healthy. And so we heard that and we took that seriously and we looked for opportunities to accomplish that.”

Parrott reiterated that a goal is to keep the community informed and involved as more is known about the state budget and local contribution. Until the state budget is finalized, uncertainties remain.

The borough voted unanimously Monday night to introduce the school district’s budget. It will be back in front of the assembly for public hearing May 20th.