By Carey Restino
This year’s Kenai Peninsula School District budget is more than $2 million in the red after state funding came in lower than expected. For this year, the district will balance the $149 million budget using its reserves, but in coming years, adjustments will have to be made to account for the shortfall, said KPBSD Superintendent Steve Atwater.
“We anticipated receiving more money from the state, and we did, but it came in the form of funding for security and safety changes for the district, and we needed it for operations,” Atwater said.
The district had already anticipated a $1 million shortfall, but the state funding came up another $1 million short, he said. While this year’s spending is already set, the district is soon going to have a conversation about how to proceed in the future, Atwater said.
Since 82 percent of the district’s budget pays for people, cutting staff is the most likely way the district will balance the budget, he said. How to do that is tricky, though. Since the district’s student population is gradually declining districtwide, the district’s funding from the state continues to decline. But district pupil-to-teacher rates set the maximum number of students in each classroom, and the loss of a student here or there may not change the staffing numbers. Atwater said that there is enough funding in the reserve account to keep the current budget afloat for five years if state funding remains at its current level.
“It would be nice if the state would give the Base Student Allocation an increase,” he said. “It makes no sense to drain the reserves down to zero.”
Atwater said that the district faces challenges because there are so many small schools in the area. While none of those schools are in danger of closing at the moment because of low enrollments, it is expensive to keep so many remote schools going.
The school board will likely have to discuss measures, such as increasing the pupil-teacher ratio, in coming years if the state funding formula doesn’t change, Atwater said.
Meanwhile, the state did appropriate about $1.4 million for the school district to make safety and security improvements districtwide. Atwater said that one of the first ways that funding will be used is to change the door locks on a lot of the schools. Currently, the doors lock from the outside only, he said. New locks that can be locked from the inside, as well, will be installed, he said.
Atwater said the quality of the education experience for peninsula students isn’t likely to be significantly changed by future budget adjustments, but that there will need to be some cost-cutting measures.
“We are not looking at compromising our kids’ experience in a dramatic way,” Atwater said. “I think they are still going to get a quality education experience, but we are going to be looking at tightening our belts in the coming year.”