The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is facing a $3 million deficit this year. The district intends to reduce that figure by using roughly one million from its savings. Budget deficits have been a constant theme for the district since the state hit hard financial times over the past few years, and up until now, the district has avoided budget cuts to the classroom. But those cuts may be hard to avoid this year.
A handful of parents and school principals gathered in the Homer High library to discuss how to address the budget deficit. Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones said the district has been making cuts since 2015.
“If you’re sitting in this room right now hearing me talk about a deficit and what should we do, you should all be saying déjà vu, all over again, over and over and over again," he said.
The district has already made cuts to student nutrition, custodial staff, administration and other areas.
“There's 13 fewer faces in the district office than there was four years ago,” he said. “Some people will tell you that is a great thing and some people when they're saying why doesn’t Dave ever get back to me? Or why don't they get back to me, then they don't think it's such a good thing."
Now, the district is running out of places to cut. It may need to turn to the classroom. Jones said cuts in the classroom would most likely start at the high school level because the actual number of students attending school is often less than the total class size.
“At the high school level we have a lot of students that are attending our local colleges that are getting dual credit," he said. “They are in the classroom with the college and are not in the classroom in the high school. We have a lot of students that are in internships.”
Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski said that a change in the student-to-teacher ratio would probably mean fewer sections of Spanish classes for students in Homer.
Other ideas on where to cut the budget came up during the meeting, such as rethinking parent-teacher conference days and moving to a four-day school week. But Jones said a four-day week wouldn’t help much financially and parent Lisa Martin spoke out against it.
“So we're taking our kids out of school and then not offering them necessarily a quality child care program to enter into,” she said.
But Jones said the four-day school week is not completely off the table.
Others were weary of the cuts and said the solution was to advocate for more funding. Parent and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board Member Mike Illg called on people to advocate at a local level.
“I’m a parent of a young child who's only going to get one shot at a public education, and I'll say it again we need to get it right the first time,” he said. “My perspective is that probably the most effective thing we could do as far as advocacy would be at the Borough level."
Last night’s budget meeting wasn’t the only discussion over school funding. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly also had the topic on its agenda.
The assembly passed a resolution to support a House Bill that would task the Legislature with working out education funding earlier in the budgeting process. That resolution passed, but there were also similar pleas from educators asking the borough to fund education to the cap. Nikiski teacher Jesse Bjorkman testified at the meeting.
"By underfunding education, the kids are not going to receive the education that they deserve,” he said. “They are not going to receive those opportunities and students successes will not be as good as they could have been.”
Mayor Charlie Pierce pushed back. He said funding education fully could mean cuts elsewhere and he questioned the teacher on what the cuts would actually look like in the schools.
“Will your class plan change next year with your students?” Pierce asked. “Will your class plans suffer next year, you in the classroom with your students? Will it suffer or change? Will the students not get the same education that they are getting with you next year?”
Bjorkman replied, “My commitment will not change. My ability to make my time go as far as it can with every student will decrease because there may be more students in my classroom."
The district will put out its final budget in April and it is asking for maximum funding which is roughly $2 million more than the funding it received in 2018.