Schools push back on proposed midyear budget cut

Homer Council on the Arts will host the Nutcracker Faire at the Homer High School. (Photo by Aaron Bolton/KBBI)

Homer High School in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. (Photo by Aaron Bolton/KBBI)

Alaska school leaders are concerned about an unexpected, midyear $20 million funding cut proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration.

Pegge Erkeneff, spokeswoman for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, said the proposal was unexpected.

“Absolutely the district is caught by surprise,” she said. “This is late in the (budget) year.”

The school funding cut was one of several spending reductions proposed by Dunleavy’s administration on Monday in a supplemental spending bill. A separate bill would pay for earthquake relief.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District says its $1.4 million share of the money was budgeted to pay for 11.5 teaching positions.

Erkeneff said her district followed the same budgeting process it has for the past 20 years whenever the Legislature appropriates additional money for schools. The state traditionally sent the money out around this time of year, after districts have finalized their enrollment counts.

“The district understands that the state is in very tough times financially,” she said. “And the district is committed to providing the best education we can, with the dollars that we have for the students that are in our classrooms today. However, a repeal of money that’s already been allocated such as this is really unacceptable.”

The money was allocated by the district, but not by the state. But the state had estimated how much districts would receive.

New state budget director Donna Arduin is bringing a different approach. While districts may have spent money counting on the state later sending it to them, she said they shouldn’t have.

“It is my contention that school districts and other entities seeking money or expecting money from the state should not be anticipating spending money that’s not been allocated to them,” she said.

If the Legislature agrees to Dunleavy’s proposed cut, the Kenai district plans to offset the lost money by reducing its savings.

The requested budget changes also include a $3 million reduction in funding for village public safety officers. Bethel Democratic Sen. Lyman Hoffman said the state should be spending more money to attract VPSOs, not less.

“Looking at taking the money at this time is short-sighted and does not do justice to the services that are required for the people in the far-flung corners of Alaska,” he said.

Arduin’s staff noted that the VPSO program has spent less than budgeted each of the past three years, as it’s struggled to recruit and retain officers. Arduin said the administration is working on recruitment and retention for the future, but that money won’t be spent this year.

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