District begins crafting FY21 budget

Nov 18, 2019

 


The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is beginning its annual process to craft next year’s budget. That process has been marked in recent years by budget cuts from state, translating to staffing cuts in the district. Administrators remain optimistic for funding this year, but recognize the challenges they could face.

 


 

“It’s our sincere hope that we receive at least the same amount of funding from the state of Alaska as we did last year, and we’ll be funded to the cap by the borough assembly," district superintendent John O’Brien said during a district-wide budget meeting and presentation last week.

He said borough mayor Charlie Pierce will support full funding this year, but that still leaves one other, much bigger political question. What the legislature will do.

The governor will release his version of the budget in December, then the fun really starts on January 20th, when the legislature gavels in. Between now and then, leaders in the district are trying to remind everyone what that funding, more than $50 million from the borough and nearly $90 million from the state, represents for students.

"We really didn’t want to come out this time and start talking already about (the) things we’re going to look at cutting," says assistant superintendent Dave Jones. “What we need to do is look at what’s the best way we can invest that money to improve student performance.”

That’s what the district did more than a decade ago, when it was lagging behind in some big markers, notably, graduation rates. 

“What was significant is that we were able to add interventionist positions. What those positions did was (take) elementary students that were significantly behind in reading and math, pull them out for an hour a day for the whole school year. And what we found was that if a student goes into, say, third grade significantly below third grade reading, by the time they get out of there through the interventionist program, they have not only gained but they’re on par with where they’re supposed to be going into the fourth grade.”

Fast forward a few years and as those same students reach the end of their secondary education, indicators like graduation rates begin creeping up in the district. Jones says this year, the Kenai’s graduation rate projects to be at or even slightly above the national average But as the district has trimmed staff over the last five years in response to state budget cuts, it’s that individualized portion of instruction that can be set back.

“When we start looking at these interventionist positions that we’ve added...we know we have positive proof they work and provide a benefit to our students but we’re being put in a financial situation where we’re reducing them because we can’t reduce the main classroom teacher.”

And those gains in various academic measures made over the last several years are in jeopardy of slipping again, even with so-called flat funding. Because even with the same numbers going into the budget as last year, the numbers on the other side of the ledger continue to grow.

“We really would rather spend our time looking at how can we improve education and the services that we offer to our students as opposed to how can we cut and still provide similar services.”

More budget cuts are expected in the Governor’s budget proposal that will be released next month. Dunleavy's administration has indicated it’s looking at a fifteen percent cut from all departments.