Ketchikan High School. (KRBD file photo by Leila Kheiry)

Ketchikan’s school district might get through its budget crunch without layoffs. That was one message delivered by Superintendent Michael Robbins at Wednesday’s meeting of Ketchikan’s school board.

Earlier this year, Robbins told the board that the district was looking at deep, across-the-board staff cuts that could result in as many as 57 layoffs, or about 15% of the district’s workforce. Robbins and school board members have pointed to two major factors driving the budget crunch: declining enrollment and state funding that hasn’t kept up with inflation.

Lawmakers in the state House and Senate have floated bills that would increase the state’s per-student funding, known as the base student allocation. On Wednesday, a House committee voted to advance a bill that would provide for a $680 increase in the BSA this year, and another $120 the following year. A similar bill moving through the Senate would raise the BSA by $1,000 this year and $348 the next year.

But Robbins says that even a $100 increase in per-student state education funding would allow Ketchikan’s school district to eke by without layoffs.

“We feel like there’s enough room in our budget even with a very small, small, small increase of the BSA that will have all of our teachers and staff covered that currently are working for us right now,” Robbins told the school board.

But that doesn’t mean that the school district’s staff won’t shrink. Robbins says the district will close some unfilled positions left by resignations or retirements, and some low-performing teachers may not have their contracts renewed. But Robbins says he does not anticipate laying off teachers or staff for budgetary reasons.

Robbins said that with the reduction in staff, classes will likely get bigger at the elementary level. As it stands, the district has approximately 15 students for each teacher. Robbins says the district is currently budgeting for 18 students per elementary teacher. That’s in line with the Alaska state average as of 2019, but higher than the national average of 15.9, according to figures from the National Center for Education Statistics covering all grade levels.

But Robbins cautions that the budget is subject to change.

“This is the budget as of March 22, 2023 at 7:01 and 22 seconds. The budget process is a fluid process. So to sit there and say, ‘This is what it’s going to be in May when the assembly is done with their work’ is a little bit unrealistic,” Robbins said.

The board must finalize its budget and submit it to the Borough Assembly by May 1.