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District approves worst-case school budget while hoping legislative boost will prevent cuts

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and Board of Education chambers, photographed in April 2024.
Riley Board
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and Board of Education chambers, photographed in April 2024.

In an 8-1 vote, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Board of Education approved a budget with cuts to teachers, staff and programs to meet a statutory deadline, while still hoping a state funding boost will prevent having to make those cuts.

The budget approved Monday uses 100% of the district’s unrestricted fund balance — essentially its savings account, about $5.8 million — and still includes cuts to almost every area of the district.

“To balance that budget, we had to make cuts of $7.8 million,” the district’s Finance Director Liz Hayes said at a board meeting earlier this month.

The cuts include a one-person increase to the peer-to-teacher ratio in all schools except small elementary schools, cuts to pool and theater staff, a reduction in days for support staff like aides and secretaries, a 10% reduction for the school supplies budget, and cuts to extracurricular travel, coaching stipends and curricular and technology upgrades.

But if the Alaska Legislature decides to boost school funding this session, that won’t have to happen. The legislature passed a major per-student increase of $680 in February, but that Base Student Allocation or BSA increase was vetoed by the governor in March.

Hoping the legislature may take up another school funding increase later in the session, the Kenai Peninsula school board’s finance committee designed three scenarios: the worst-case option they approved this week that accounts for no legislative increase, a budget with a modest $340 BSA increase from the state, and one with a possible $680 per-student boost.

“We have to submit a singular document to the assembly for approval. That document is going to be, in the timeline that we are under with statute regulations, scenario one,” Board President Zen Kelly explained that strategy at a meeting earlier this month. “But the communication to the public is these three scenarios. If we get up to $340 in additional either one-time funds or in the BSA, all of these reductions, most of these reductions, go away. If we get $680, all of these reductions go away.”

On Monday, Soldotna Member Penny Vadla was the sole vote against the budget. She said she’s disappointed in how little support school districts are receiving from the state.

The school board needed to approve a budget by May 1 to share with the borough. The district is requesting the full possible contribution from the borough: $58 million, a calculation based on assessed property tax value. Assembly members signaled support for that full contribution at a joint session earlier this month.

The next regular school board meeting is scheduled for May 6.

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