The assembly took nearly three hours of public testimony before it finally got an action item on the agenda. One of which was related to education funding.
Assembly members Hal Smalley and Willy Dunne co-sponsored an ordinance appropriating $2.4 million to school district now, in order to begin offering contracts for at least some of the district’s non-tenured teachers.
“It’s really unfortunate we have to go through this on an annual basis, giving pink slips to staff with the hopes that we will be able to hire them again the following fiscal year if the state and the borough provide enough funding," Dunne said. "By providing this funding this year, it would protect some of our non-tenured staff. If state funding is reduced, we may not be able to fund to the same cap next fiscal year, so this would provide a bit of breathing room for the school (district) to plan for future cuts.”
The ordinance was simply up for introduction, but many of the people who had come to testify in support of keeping Chapman school in Anchor Point also addressed this issue, as did teachers staff and students from around the district.
"I’m one of these non-tenured teachers and this decrease in funding could mean I will no longer have a job," said Sara Lucas, biology teacher at Soldotna Prep. "This is my second year with the district and seventh year teaching in Alaska. I definitely have a vested interest in increasing funding for our K-12 schools, but I’m here fighting for my students tonight, not my job. I have a chemistry degree. I feel like I have plenty of options with this degree but my students do not have a choice. I love teaching and am torn on whether to leave or stay. The students keep pulling me back. However, currently my thoughts are consumed with looking at other career or school options. Because this is my second year in a row where, at this point in time, I do not have a signed contract, I cannot wait around. I need to take care of my needs first and I think it might be time for a career change.”
During committee meetings earlier Tuesday, outgoing superintendent Sean Dusek said the attrition rate, the number of teachers retiring or moving on, was about the same as in past years. But even with the extra $2.4 million, more than 100 teachers will be left without contracts.
This comes in light of revised budget numbers. Borough finance director Brandi Harbaugh said during the finance committee meeting that increased sales tax revenues and other dollars will likely cut the projected borough deficit in half to around $1 million. How the administration feels about the extra spending for teacher contracts is a matter of conjecture at this point, as borough mayor Charlie Pierce was absent from the discussion. A fact not lost on assembly member and former borough mayor Dale Bagley.
“I’ve got a number of family members who are teachers and I know as we go through this process, I’m going to be fairly supportive, maybe not 100 percent what the teachers are advocating for but pretty dang close. And I want to mention that we have been funding to the cap over the years. In fact, back when I was mayor we figured out creative ways to fund outside the cap and thanks to (former) Representative Chenault, we got the funding formula changed and it certainly helped out quite a bit. One thing I’m not happy with, I know the mayor has made a lot of comments and has probably enflamed the situation just a little bit and I am really not happy that he’s not here for the testimony that was heard today. We sat through it and we’re going to have to make decisions and I really think the mayor should have been here for it and I don’t think you should schedule vacations during budget time," Bagley said.
The assembly will vote on the supplemental funding measure when it meets next in Seward on April 16th.