Borough approves funding boost for KIBSD, but future budgets still a challenge

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The Kodiak Island Borough School District is getting a funding bump from the Borough. Last week, Kodiak Island Borough Assembly members voted 5 to 2 to approve the school district’s request to raise their annual assistance by $1.5 million. The request came at risk of cutting teachers or programs without a funding boost.

The Kodiak Island Borough School District will now receive just under $12 million from the Borough – nearly a quarter of the district’s budget of $49.1 million.

Sandy Daws is the chief financial officer for KIBSD. She says the budget just wasn’t working on paper for the upcoming year without that assistance- or a serious staff cut.

“In order to maintain all the programs that we currently have in our district, that’s what we need from the borough to make sure we maintain those programs,” Daws said.

The school district is tightening their budget as well. KIBSD is pulling $2 million out of their fund balance –  $500,000 more than they planned to. That’s kind of like drawing from money that the school is hoping to have by the end of the year. If the fund balance gets overdrawn by the district, they could find themselves scrambling to fill a multimillion dollar hole in a future budget.

Larry LeDoux is KIBSD’s Superintendent. He’s also the state of Alaska’s former education commissioner. He served under Gov. Sarah Palin. He blames the state government for letting things get so bad

“You’re always budgeting when you don’t know your revenue. I mean, how do I develop a budget that will meet the needs of our kids when I don’t know, local funding, state funding, federal funding, until I’m halfway through the fiscal year- no person would do their own personal budget that way,” LeDoux said.    

One issue is that the borough government is on the hook for school bond debt, namely debt left over from the construction of Kodiak High School which cost $80 million and was completed in late 2016. The state agreed to partially pay for the debt, but has since failed to fund the bond debt reimbursement program during the budgeting process in recent years. 

That’s a multimillion dollar hole the borough has to fill, which leaves less money to invest into the school system or into maintenance for school buildings- all of which are technically owned by the borough government. LeDoux says it didn’t used to be like this.

“When the state started running out of oil revenue, they started cutting back. Last year, they only gave 30% or 33% of the bond reimbursement. And when we were expecting 70% the previous year, they gave nothing. And it used to be that if we needed a roof replaced, the state would come through with the money every year. And they stopped doing that,” LeDoux said. 

The state does provide consistent funding based on the amount of students enrolled in the district every year, but that decreases as enrollment declines – that’s been a consistent issue for KIBSD. Enrollment is expected to decrease by 22 students this year and another 22 students next year. And the needs of the district grow every year- staff costs go up by around a million dollars annually as staff gain experience in the district, and insurance costs and recent rising inflation push the district to the extreme.

The school district is still looking to trim the budget by an additional $300,000 for the upcoming school year – and there’s always next year’s budget. 

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