By Jenny Neyman
Years of budget cutting and deficit spending have left the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District with no easy answers for how to avoid impacting instruction next year.
Behind door No. 1 — hope for a little more, or at least the same level of funding from the Legislature as last year, which is not a sure bet, given the state’s increasingly dismal budget prospects in the face of low oil revenues.
Behind door No. 2 — pull more money from its savings to cover shortfalls. But after four years of deficit spending, the district’s general fund account is not as robust as it once was, and there doesn’t appear to be any immediate turnaround of the state’s fiscal fortune on the horizon.
Door No. 3 is more budget cuts. After cutting over $1.2 million two years ago and over $1.3 million last year, there are no more relatively easy cuts to make.
“This isn’t the first year we’ve seen problems coming,” said Dave Jones, assistant superintendent of instructional support. “We’ve tried to make cuts as far from the classroom as we can to try to protect instruction. We’ve been at it now for two years, this will be the third year, so the things that are away from classrooms that we can cut are pretty much gone and unfortunately we’re going to have to cut in the classroom.”
In November, the school board decided to pull no more than $1.3 million from savings for next year’s budget and set a preliminary budget that cuts just about $4.6 million, leaving itself some wiggle room in case state and local funding are reduced.
The biggest chunk of that is 25.65 full-time-equivalent teachers, one counselor and two school administrator positions, to the tune of $2.5 million. Jones said that 12 of those teacher positions were already slated for reduction. They were added last year thinking school enrollments would be higher than they ended up being. The rest are coming from reductions in pupil-teacher ratios, meaning bigger classes. Kindergarten classes won’t be affected, but pupil-teacher ratio changes will be applied across all other grade levels and schools across the district.
Supplies, travel, technical, software and equipment at the district office level are reduced $415,000. District office is also taking a cut of 5.26 positions. Jones said they hope to achieve those reductions by not filling vacancies from retirements and people moving.
“They’ve looked at what departments were added to, if the things that were added can go back away,” Jones said. “A lot of people looking at, ‘OK, here’s what we have, here’s what they do, what can we do without? Can we not replace that position and consolidate duties?”