Education funding has been a big part of discussions in the Alaska Legislature this session – and the uncertainty has forced tough conversations in school districts across the state. The Kodiak Island Borough School District is bracing for a flat base student allocation.
The BSA is how the state decides how to distribute funds per student to every school district. Education funding in the state has been stagnant for 6 years now and hasn’t kept up with inflation. This year, KIBSD is preparing for the worst and planning their budget on yet another year of flat funding.
Cyndy Mika is the school district’s superintendent.
“With flat funding – if everything stays the same with revenue coming in from the state and the borough – with flat funding, our finance department is projecting about a $4 million deficit starting off,” she said.
Mika says she wants to maximize efficiency for Kodiak schools. One way to do that is to fill every classroom. The current KIBSD Board of Education guideline both for the middle and high schools is 30 students for each teacher. Electives, such as welding, are instead limited by outside entities such as the Occupational Safety and Hazard Association.
The elementary school has different student to teacher ratios for each grade level. Right now, many classrooms aren’t filled to capacity.
Mika says filling each classroom and finding ways to skim some staff could be a part of the solution to the school’s budget.
“What happens is that there’s always a group of teachers that don’t sign their contract for whatever reason,” she said. “They retire, they resign, they move back to the lower 48, so we’re looking at what those are and possibly not refilling those positions.”
But Mika was also quick to say while they may not rehire for certain positions, they have no plans for layoffs.
“Layoffs is not even on the table, so I’ll just say that right up front.”
There may be electives on the chopping block this year as well, however Mika has not done much research into which ones.
KIBSD was projected to take about $2.5 million out of its fund balance – which is similar to savings – this year. The state also provided a one-time gift to schools in July of last year, and the district received $1.2 million in addition to the BSA.
The district has also had a difficult time filling vacancies, and the budget set aside for those positions will return to the school’s fund balance. Mika says they just might be able to make it through the year without dipping into their rainy day fund.
“We still might not see as deep of a dip into our fund balance because, as you know, we have had a hard time staffing this year,” she said. “So positions that were originally budgeted for were not staffed and so we actually might come out even this year.”
There are some legislative fixes on the table – Senate Bill 52 proposes a $1,000 increase to the BSA, which could bring around $5.5 million to the island’s school district. But Mika says most of that money would go towards the deficit in their current plan for the budget with a flat BSA.