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School board approves new budget, drawing on savings to avoid cuts

Vice President Zen Kelly thanked the school board and public for their engagement in the budget process.
Riley Board
Vice President Zen Kelly thanked the school board and public for their engagement in the budget process.

The Kenai Peninsula School District’s Board of Education last night voted to draw on its savings to balance its budget for the 2024 fiscal year. After a legislative back and forth and partial veto from the governor, district officials say they’ll pull through this year without cutting staff positions — but that the outlook is grim going forward.

Facing a $13 million deficit this fiscal year, the school district planned cuts to staff, pools, theaters and other extracurriculars, barring an increase to the state’s per-student funding formula. Board members, district administrators and school staff lobbied the legislature throughout the spring for an increase to that funding, but it didn’t pass this session. Instead, the legislative budget included a $175 million one-time boost, which would have allowed the district to avoid the cuts.

Then, in June, Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed half of that money.

Now, the district will receive just $5.8 million from the state in one-time funding. In response to the veto, the district rearranged its budget, and now plans to draw just under $62,000 from the fund balance, the district’s savings account, to make up the gaps.

“For our district, with that increase, the additional funding from the borough, the use of the fund balance, and these grants that we received, we’re going to be able to make it through, very tightly, this next year,” district Superintendent Clayton Holland said.

At its meeting Monday night, the board of education voted unanimously to approve the revised budget, which needs to be transmitted to the state by July 15. Board Vice President and Finance Committee Chair Zen Kelly thanked the board and public for their involvement.

“I really appreciate the engagement of the public on this budget. I know that there was quite a bit at stake,” Kelly said.

Holland stressed that the district is facing an even more dire financial situation next year.

“It’s very important for everyone to know, going into next year, FY25, given the way things stand, we’re looking between a $12 and $13 million deficit,” he said. “And so we will be going through this process again, only it’s gonna be much more significant.”

He said it will be difficult to secure contracts and attract teachers, because funding isn’t guaranteed.

The district is planning to host special public information sessions about the budgeting process in the near future, to give the public insight into the complex finance process.

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