It’s been a hard year for Alaska’s educators. The state legislature elected not to increase the base student allocation long term. Districts are also facing a teacher shortage, especially in rural communities.
Kodiak Island Borough School District officials hoped for a higher BSA, or per pupil funding from the state, but ultimately braced for a stagnant budget. In budget proposals earlier this year, the district outlined plans to use about $4 million from its savings to cover costs.
The State Legislature approved a one-year funding boost for schools last month. Between that boost, a small increase from the Kodiak Island Borough of about $250,000, and cutting a few positions, KIBSD was able to reduce their deficit to about half.
Dr. Cyndy Mika is the school district’s superintendent. She said the current practice of making schools wait to see how much funding they’ll receive from the state isn’t sustainable.
“While we’re very appreciative of the one time funding that was equivalent to what should have been in the BSA, it’s very hard to forward fund on that,” she said. “Things need to be sustained because we don’t know if we’ll have it in following years.”
The district was able to avoid cutting any programs or classes altogether, and was able to reassign some classes, like fisheries, to other teachers. Mika said part of why she wants to see the BSA raised is to better compensate teachers, especially when they change responsibilities.
“It’s hard to give a raise to our teachers who desperately need it if we don’t have the money that’s going to be there in the future years to support it,” she said. “It’s very hard for us to plan a proper compensation for our staff, our teachers, and our aids and to plan multi-year curricular-type projects.”
But paying teachers is just one of the problems KIBSD faced this school year. The district also struggled filling teacher positions. Currently, the school still has two open positions in town, but Mika said rural schools will be fully staffed. The district filled all six of its rural school teacher positions.
“A commitment that I have next year is to ensure that those transitions are smooth and that we’re meeting the needs of those students, particularly in Ouzinkie where we had subs all year,” she said.
To help with the teacher shortage, the district is once again bringing teachers from the Philippines on top of their domestic hires. The two Filipino teachers coming this fall will join the nine they hired last year.
“We have a very large Filipino population here and it is really important for students to see people that look (like) and have the same culture as them,” Mika said. “That is really why Filipino teachers, I think, would be a huge value to this community.”
This was Mika’s first year as the school district superintendent. Next year, she said she hopes to continue building relationships with the students and communities she serves and providing quality education for the archipelago.