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Borough approves $56 million minimum school district contribution

Borough Assembly members hear testimony from teacher union president LaDawn Druce on Tuesday, May 7.
Riley Board
Borough Assembly members hear testimony from teacher union president LaDawn Druce on Tuesday, May 7.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved a $56.2 million contribution to the borough’s school district for the next fiscal year at its Tuesday night meeting.

The borough can provide up to a certain amount of money to the school district based on a percentage of assessed property tax value, calculated by mills or basic need. Borough officials said Tuesday that the school district originally requested $56 million, then increased their ask by $2 million after using the other calculation approach.

The number approved Tuesday night is just a floor — the borough can still contribute more money up to the cap.

Borough Mayor Peter Micciche said he wants to support the school district, but called on the state legislature to step up and provide more funding. The state’s contribution to districts hasn’t meaningfully increased since 2017.

“The state has to meet their constitutional requirement to fund education, and we can’t cover the gap no matter what if they don’t. It’s simply not possible. Eroding into what they should be paying not only doesn’t make sense, but it’s unaffordable to our own residents,” Micciche said during a committee meeting Tuesday afternoon. “They continue to shift more and more costs to the local governments. It’s time to stand up. If we don’t stand up here, we need to bring communities together, and stand up in a court of law.”

Borough Finance Director Brandi Harbaugh presented about the broader boroughwide budget, which will receive public hearings at the next two assembly meetings. It includes two decreased mill rates, in the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area and South Peninsula Hospital Service Area, and a mill rate increase for the Western Emergency Service Area, which includes Ninilchik and Anchor Point.

During the main assembly meeting Tuesday night, school district officials including Superintendent Clayton Holland, Board of Education President Zen Kelly and teacher union president LaDawn Druce thanked the borough for setting the minimum, and its communicative approach.

“I appreciate that the floor is set at this, and I think it is a very financially prudent decision by the mayor and by the assembly to start at this point. I completely understand it,” said Kelly. “And I know that if we’re in a bind and there is additional need that we need, I feel like we can come to you and request that.”

The school district contribution passed unanimously on the assembly’s consent agenda.

The district is still waiting to see if the state legislature will provide a one-time or permanent increase to per-student funding. Both the House and Senate have included $175 million in their proposed operating budgets, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy recently reversed his stance and signaled potential support.

The regular legislative session ends May 15, a week from today.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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