The Kenai Peninsula School District is only four months into the current fiscal year, but school board members and district and school staff are already turning their attention towards the fiscal year 2020 budget. On Tuesday, site councils from 22 schools in the district gathered to give their preliminary input on the process.
School principals, their staff and parents from the greater Homer-Anchor Point area gathered Wednesday evening in the Homer Middle School Library to hear a budget presentation via Skype.
Superintendent Sean Dusek began by noting some of the fiscal realities the district will face as it works on next year’s budget.
“Enrollment is the cornerstone of funding for our budget, and as you can see since about 2010, we’ve experienced a consistent decline,” he explained.
State dollars, which account for roughly 63 percent of the district’s funding, is based on enrollment.
About 8,600 students are currently enrolled districtwide, down about 500 students from fiscal year 2010. Dusek said an increase in the number of families choosing homeschooling programs outside of the district is adding to the problem.
“We are seeing more students choosing a statewide correspondence program,” he added. “So hopefully in the near future, your site council will have a discussion on why that might be.”
Dusek noted that the district is on track spend about $1.4 million more than it will bring in this year. That would leave only $3 million in the district’s two main savings accounts to fill future budget shortfalls, which have been the norm in recent years.
That’s putting school administrators like Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski in a tough spot as they give district administrators input on the upcoming budget.
“We’ve been cut and we know if it’s going to be, it’s going to be teachers,” Waclawski said. “There isn’t much else to cut. We could cut a lot of other little things, but none of them would even add up to even a partial teacher.”
Homer High was on track to lose two teachers this fiscal year before the Legislature approved some extra one-time funding. Waclawski said those positions will be on the chopping block next year if the next Legislature doesn’t approve another cash injection in the upcoming legislative session.
“You cut half of a teacher, you’re putting class sizes in the 30s. Some of our rooms are kind of small and we don’t have enough room for desks when you get up to 30,” Waclawski noted.
He’s is encouraging the district to push the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to consider a sales tax increase or a bed tax as a way to provide more education funding.
He is also asking the district to spare funding for nurses, arts and sports.
“Because when you cut sports, they’re still there. It just ends up having to fundraise, and the Homer community already fundraises more than other communities just because the amount of travel,” Waclawski said.
Chapman School Principal Conrad Woodhead said the Anchor Point school is more concerned about a school capacity study, which will tell the district and the school board in December what schools are under capacity.
“The potential of what that’s going to look like and what the board is going to do with that information I think was heavy on the folks that I talked to, their minds,” he said.
The study could potentially lead to a consolidation of schools. Woodhead said Chapman is currently over 50 percent capacity with 134 kids enrolled. However, he’s not sure how Chapman’s portable classrooms and other outlying facilities will be factored into the study.
The school board’s budget discussions are due to pick up steam in December and the borough assembly is likely to join the discussion by January.