The Kodiak Island Borough School District is Experiencing Unexpected Budget Cuts

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Mitch Borden/KMXT

The Kodiak Island Borough School District expected to have to cut its budget this year, but not this much.

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Student Enrollment is down this year across the Kodiak Island Borough School District, which means it has a lot less money than it thought it would.        

“Every day I am looking at student numbers, I’m trying to balance the budget. I’m worried about whether we have a cold winter or not. Whether we can pay for the fuel to get through the winter because everything has been cut so tight.”

Dr. Larry LeDoux is the Kodiak Island Borough School District’s superintendent. He says the district started its fiscal year knowing it’d have to reduce its budget by around $1.9 million. But with the drop in enrollment, LeDoux thinks the budget cut will run a lot deeper — more like $3 million.

“Well, I think it’s almost a budget catastrophe. We have shaved off almost every possible thing we that can.”

There’s an added complication. LeDoux has to plan — without knowing exactly how bad it’ll be. It’s a guessing game.  The majority of the district’s funding comes from the state and the federal government. And the amount? It depends on the number of students enrolled during a 20-day period in October.

The tally is known as the October Count. It’s taking place now. That means the numbers won’t be in until November.  So the district has to create its budget — without knowing exactly how much money it’ll have.

LeDoux does know that it isn’t going to be good news. He says the district is trying its best to make sure the cuts don’t affect the quality of education it provides.  

“We have cut down on maintenance position, custodial position, we’ve not filled a number of teaching positions. In every reduction, we worked really hard to keep the cuts if you will away from the classroom.”

If the district faces cuts like this in the future, LeDoux says, the region will feel it in fundamental ways.   

“If we have to go through this kind of cut or anything even close to it. If we don’t have increased revenue next year. We’re gonna be. You’re gonna see a different school system.”

The district’s board of education recently voted to close the school in Danger Bay, a logging community on Afognak Island. It had fewer than ten students attending  —  the minimum for a school to receive state funding. Its lone teacher has already been transferred.

The Danger Bay school wasn’t the only one in the district that fell below that threshold though. So did the schools in the villages of Port Lions and Karluk. But the district plans to keep those open for now — at a cost.

Each school that fails to meet the state’s minimum enrollment target costs the district around $300,000. So if the budget situation continues to deteriorate, LeDoux says, that will change.   

“If the enrollment keeps dropping then we’ll be recommending that other schools be closed. Ultimately, we won’t be able to afford keeping them open, but we’re trying to do everything we can to avoid that. That’s the last thing in the world we want to do is close a school.”

Closing a school in a village can have a huge effect on the entire community says Peggy Azuyak, the district’s director of rural schools.

“In a lot of our communities, the school is kind of the center of the community. In a lot of our sites, it’s used as kind of the community hall and cultural center as well as the learning center for the community. It’s a very important part of any of our communities.”

Both Azuyak and Superintendent LeDoux will be traveling to Port Lions to meet with residents and talk about options for the future. LeDoux says he wants to reach out to other rural communities as well. He’s also already begun working on the budget for next year.

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