Ketchikan’s school board is set to discuss the district’s budget priorities for next school year. Teachers and parents in Ketchikan say their top priority is helping students catch up after the pandemic disrupted learning.
Nearly two thirds of teachers and parents surveyed by Ketchikan’s school district said additional federal aid should be spent on helping students make up ground lost over the past year by disruptions brought on by the pandemic.
And they may be in luck. A $1.9 trillion federal relief package would allocate roughly $130 billion to public schools. A fifth of that would be for extra instruction. The bill calls out “summer learning, extended day, or extended school year programs” as possible ways to make that happen.
What form that will take is still up in the air. Acting Superintendent Katie Parrott declined to be interviewed before she briefs the school board later this week. But she told the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly earlier this month that the district is drafting plans for expanded summer offerings.
“We’re looking at potentially doing an expanded summer school for all grades the way that we did last summer. So there’s definitely a lot of talk about things that we can do over the summer to help,” Parrott said at a March 1 meeting.
The results from a survey of around 270 parents and teachers were recently released. Two-thirds wanted more instruction to keep kids from falling behind. Other priorities include health and safety and technology for distance learning.
It’ll be up to Ketchikan’s school board to assign priorities when it sets next year’s budget.
According to the state education department, Ketchikan’s school district has already received about $2.5 million in federal coronavirus assistance from two separate federal packages. The district reported to the state education department that most of that money went towards district salaries and pandemic-related supplies.
More federal aid is on the way. The latest $1.9 trillion relief package would provide about twice as much money for schools as the previous two aid bills combined.
But Ketchikan’s schools still face longer-term budget challenges.
Ketchikan borough officials recently sounded the alarm about a looming shortfall in local education spending.
That’s because the district has in recent years been drawing on savings to fund local schools — the borough’s tax-funded contributions to the school account haven’t kept up with expenses. But next school year the Local Education Fund, or LEF, may dip below the minimum balance allowed by law.
Acting Superintendent Katie Parrott told the assembly that she’s keeping that deficit in mind as the district prepares next year’s budget.
“We also are very much aware of the situation with the LEF, and with our community’s situation in terms of potentially suffering another very difficult economic year. And so all of those things are being factored into our budget planning,” she said.
She told the assembly she anticipated putting forth a budget that was “conservative, reasonable and meets a variety of needs.”
The school district says it plans to hold two public hearings and adopt its annual budget by the end of April.But first, school board members are set to discuss funding priorities at a teleconferenced meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday . The full agenda is available online, and the meeting is broadcast on local cable channels and live-streamed at the borough’s website.
Members of the public who would like to address the board can do so by contacting the school board clerk by 1 p.m. Wednesday. Written comments can be submitted by email at Kerry.Watson@k21schools.org. To sign up to offer live testimony, call 247-2142.