How Alaska school districts planned to spend that $20 million


Explore the table below or the map above to see the amount of one-time funding each school district expected to receive and how some planned to use the $20 million that could be cut from a supplemental budget.

Click to expand — Table: How Alaska school districts planned to spend $20 million

School District Amount* Plans
Anchorage School District $5,772,609
Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District $2,619,784
Fairbanks North Star Borough School District $2,016,261
Equivalent to 18 teachers’ salaries. The district will honor those contracts and pull from reserves if necessary.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District $1,405,152
Lower Kuskokwim School District $1,056,175
Equivalent to 10 certified teaching positions, with benefits.
Juneau Borough School District $671,008
Designated for deferred maintenance and infrastructure projects. Local funding is tied to state funding; a reduction in state funding would result in reduced local funding.
Lower Yukon School District $563,553
Bering Strait School District $557,468
Northwest Arctic Borough School District $547,548
Designated for deferred maintenance and infrastructure projects. Local funding is tied to state funding; a reduction in state funding would result in reduced local funding.
North Slope Borough School District $456,526
Reserved for unexpected, one-time expenditures, such as losing a boiler in teacher housing.
Kodiak Island Borough School District $399,023
Reserved for unexpected, one-time expenditures, such as losing a boiler in teacher housing.
Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District $387,274
Galena City School District $322,539
Yukon-Koyukuk School District $215,425
Funds would help offset increased health care costs.
Sitka School District $212,318
District expected to receive $187,000 based on lower than expected actual enrollment. Funds were to be used for two teaching positions. District does not have sufficient funds in the general fund balance to cover the proposed loss. If cut approved, district will make significant cuts to programming, likely impose a spending freeze at all schools.
Southwest Region School District $178,283
Delta/Greely School District $133,595
Yupiit School District $128,114
Lake & Peninsula Borough School District $127,035
Funds planned for construction fund, which has a negative balance. Superintendent Ty Mase: “We have carpets peeling up, roofs leaking and doors that are rusted through” in need of repair.
Nome Public Schools $122,937
Alaska Gateway School District $117,311
Part was designated for an elementary school reading teacher’s salary, part to transition a principal/teacher to a full-time principal. If cut approved, district would cut majority of summer maintenance like heating system upkeep, painting, deep cleaning.
Valdez City School District $116,492
Planned to fund a teaching position.
Nenana City School District $115,245
Kuspuk School District $113,797
Denali Borough School District $108,388
Yukon Flats School District $101,865
Dillingham City School District $95,372
Funds planned for professional development and student support through trauma-informed practice and counseling services.
Petersburg Borough School District $95,225
Iditarod Area School District $88,989
Copper River School District $88,430
Unalaska City School District $80,644
Funds factored into district’s decision to hire two additional teachers for the 2018-2019 school year.
Kashunamiut School District $79,650
Southeast Island School District $77,127
Aleutians East Borough School District $74,796
Annette Island School District $68,611
Cordova City School District $66,742
Craig City School District $65,632
Funds would support increased costs of staff, insurance, heat and supplies.
Wrangell Public School District $58,143
Mount Edgecumbe $56,252
Chatham School District $50,688
Saint Mary’s School District $46,261
Chugach School District $45,747
Funds would go toward increased teacher salaries and increased costs of health insurance, fuel and energy.
Haines Borough School District $44,272 Would have gone to personnel.
Klawock City School District $36,177
Hoonah City School District $33,898
Kake City School District $32,047
Bristol Bay Borough School District $26,860
Hydaburg City School District $25,326
Skagway School District $21,627
Pribilof School District $21,571
Aleutian Region School District $16,946
Yakutat School District $15,333
Funds would go to a STEM summer camp. If cut approved, camp may be canceled.
Tanana City School District $14,303
Planned to pay a part-time tutor’s wages.
Pelican City School District $7,606
Funds would support salaries and facility operation.

* May 2018 estimates by the Department of Education & Early Development

In May 2018 the Alaska Legislature approved a one-time grant of $20 million for Alaska’s public schools. The state divvied the money up between each of the 53 school districts, plus Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Districts expected to receive their share this spring, after student enrollment counts were finalized.

That money would have come on top of the regular funding formula that provides school districts with state funding. That formula, the Base Student Allocation, has seen modest increases over the last decade but has not been raised at all for the past three years.

But, when you account for inflation, flat-funding education “ultimately is a reduction in funding” — a budget cut — to schools. That’s according to Chris Reitan, superintendent of the Craig City School District. And there are lot of other superintendents in the state who agree with him.

Reitan’s district is among the smallest in the state, with three schools and a correspondence school on Prince of Wales Island. He said his district’s  share of the $20 million would have gone toward covering rising costs of supplies, heat and utilities, as well as increased staff costs.

“Would have gone” because on Jan. 28, Gov. Dunleavy’s administration proposed eliminating that $20 million as part of his supplemental budget requests.

The proposal came as a surprise to Sen. Gary Stevens, chair of the Senate Education Committee, who noted the one-time funding was “hard fought” last year, and making the cut now, halfway through the school year, would create a hardship for many school districts. He said wants to look forward, not back.

“We’ve got to face an issue of less funding than we need in the future,” Stevens said. “But let’s the look at the future, not the past budgets.”

KTOO’s Zoe Grueskin spoke with Alaska Public Media’s Abbey Collins about this story:

It also surprised superintendents across the state, who were not consulted about the proposal. Superintendents like Scott MacManus of Alaska Gateway School District were already planning for the money. His district, which is based in Tok and covers 28,000 square miles from the Alaska Range to the Yukon River and Canadian border, was estimated to receive $117,311. With that expectation, the district hired an elementary school reading teacher and transitioned a staff member who did double duty as teacher and principal to a full-time principal.

MacManus, like many other superintendents, felt assured by the Legislature that the funding would arrive. “We were told what we could count on,” he said.

Alaska’s 53 school districts planned to use the one-time funds in a variety of ways. Some districts, like the Juneau School District and the Lake & Peninsula Borough School District, intended to use the money for maintenance and construction. Lake & Peninsula superintendent Ty Mase said, “We have carpets peeling up, roofs leaking and doors that are rusted through that are all in need of repair.”

A map showing the boundaries between every school district in Alaska.

A map showing the boundaries between every school district in Alaska. (Map courtesy Alaska Department of Education and Early Development)

Other districts planned to fund special programs. The Dillingham School District planned to support trauma-informed counseling and training for staff. And plans are already way for a summer STEM camp at the Yakutat School District, where superintendent Patrick Mayer says “additional opportunities are scant” for hands-on science learning.

Some districts, like Unalaska, Sitka, and Delta/Greely, used the assurance of funding to raise teachers’ salaries or hire new staff. School districts are bound by law to fulfill their contracts with staff for the remainder of the school year, so if the cut is approved, they will need to find other ways to make up the loss this year.

Most school districts have enough money in their general fund balance to cover the loss, although they are limited in how much they can reserve for unexpected costs. Many superintendents are more concerned about what this proposal heralds for the future.

“We can sustain that for the coming year, but remember, we have nowhere else to turn,” said Delta/Greely superintendent Laural Jackson.

The Sitka School District does not have sufficient savings to cover the amount it would lose if the proposal is approved. Superintendent Mary Wegner said instead the school district would have to make “significant adjustments” for the rest of the school year. That might include freezing all funding to schools and departments, meaning “no field trips, no paper,” she said.

She also said sometimes the district can save as much as $20,000 on heating costs if it’s a warm winter, “but we are not going to save enough to cover a $187,000 deficit.”

Many superintendents said it will be easier for large school districts to weather the cut, if approved, because they tend to have more funds reserved.

Pelican School District, which operates a single school in Southeast Alaska, expected to receive $7,606 from the one-time funding, the smallest amount to any district.

“Because we are so small, every penny is vital to our continued operation,” said superintendent Norma Holmgaard.

KNOM’s Katie Kazmierski, KTOO and Alaska Public Media’s Andrew Kitchenman, KUCB’s Laura Kraegel and KHNS’s Claire Stremple contributed reporting to this story.

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