School District’s $148 million budget has $3.7 million deficit

 

Joe Arness, far left, and Seward teachers and parents listen to budget presentation Tuesday. Heidi Zemach photo

Joe Arness, far left, and Seward teachers and parents listen to budget presentation Tuesday. Heidi Zemach photo

By Heidi Zemach for SCN

Some 21 Seward residents, parents, teachers and administrators looked at the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s 2013-2014 preliminary budget, and weighed in on the process from their own perspectives. SPDSD Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones presented three budget documents Tuesday Feb 19 at the Seward High School library, including the hefty 193-page FY 14 Preliminary General Fund Budget, and explained many of their details and the district’s assumptions.  KPBSD Board of Education President Joe Arness also attended the community budget meeting, along with Laurie Olson, Director of Finance. Similar meetings are being held this month at Skyview and Homer High Schools.

Those who attended brought along a variety of concerns about school staffing levels, reductions in teachers, fewer class offerings or electives next year.  The preliminary budget shows Seward Elementary receiving an increase of .4FTE, or under half of a new position, Seward High increasing by half a position, or .5FTE, and Seward Middle losing a quarter of a position, and one- third of the administrator’s position.

The district anticipates serving 8,873 students at its 43 schools next year, Jones said. The General Fund expenditure budget is $148 million. It is based on student enrollment, and uses existing staffing formulas for each grade and school. That number also includes step increases, and one-percent salary increases anticipated for FYs 13 and 14 that reflect the district’s last offer in contract negotiations. It also includes the anticipated employer-paid share of health care at $1,350 per employee per month, and expected retirement benefits.

Dave JonesThe district’s revenue budget of $143 million falls short of the expenditure budget, however. When additional transfers to other funds are made, such as for food service and Community Theater, and even if some of the district’s Fund Balance, designated for self-insurance is used, there’s still going to be a deficit of $3.7 million, Jones said. Balancing the budget may therefore require greater spending cuts, increased funding at the state and borough level, and additional use of the district’s fund balance.

Building an education budget is a fluid process that requires assumptions or best-guesses be made in advance of knowing the amount of funding that the borough assembly and state legislature will contribute, Jones explained.

The GF preliminary budget assumes that at least $43 million (29 % of the GF) will come from the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the same amount as last year, and that $98 million (67%) will come from the state. Even as Jones spoke Tuesday night, KPBSD Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater was attending a borough assembly meeting to ask that $1.5 million be added to its local contribution. There’s still a way to go before the borough assembly funds to its property tax rate “cap,” which currently stands at 4.5 mills, Jones said. Concerned residents may want to urge the assembly to fund to that cap, he said.

Watching the issues in Juneau legislature closely, the district assumes that the Foundation Funding Program will be level-funded, as it has for the past four years, which would bring in $75 million for Kenai Peninsula district schools. The district also anticipates receiving $275,000 from the Quality Schools Program grant, and $22 million in payment to the retirement system on behalf of the district. Possible one-time funding of $1.7 million, currently included the governor’s budget, is not included in the school district’s budget.

The problem is there are not many places to cut in the budget, Jones said.

Examining the general fund budget more closely, $70.6 million (75%) of all expenditures go to regular instruction or teachers, with $19 million more going for Special Education instruction.  Instructional support, such as aids, janitors, food service workers and such accounts for 24% of total GF expenditures.



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Certified (teacher) salaries accounts for 34 percent of those total expenditures, while non-certified salaries account for another 11.6 percent. Meanwhile, employee benefits (including Workman’s Comp) accounts for 36 percent of expenditures. Purchased services (contracted-out services) is just 6.8 percent, utilities is 5.6 percent, travel is.74 percent and professional technical services is .66 percent.

With salaries and benefits totaling 81 percent of the budget, that only leaves utilities, in-kind services and discretionary accounts to trim from, the latter a mere 7.6 percent, Jones said. Utility uses already have been lowered considerably over the past few years through conservation measures taken by each individual school building, with monetary incentives repaid for savings, Jones said. Nevertheless, the cost of fuel continues to increase with rising fuel and transportation prices, as do transportation expenses.

At its February Board of Education meeting, board members discussed increasing the PTR or pupil to teacher ratio, and just how many positions would be cut. “We have no solid answers for you now, but the board is looking at cuts in those staffing levels,” Jones said.

“There isn’t anybody willing to change the PTR or staffing formula. It would be a real struggle to get that changed,” Arness tried to reassure the audience. “It would only be done  with “kicking and screaming,” he added.

Seward Elementary School teacher Terri McKnight said enacting formulaic across- the-district staff reductions, without regard to the location of the students, is not a good idea as the impact of cutting a single teacher is greater in smaller schools than in larger ones. “You can only cut so much before you have to cut core classes. It’s a great concern in our middle school,” McKnight said.

 

Concerned moms Mica VanBuskirk and Amy Hankins. Heidi Zemach photo

Concerned moms Mica VanBuskirk and Amy Hankins. Heidi Zemach photo

Mica VanBuskirk, a parent of elementary-age children, and a Seward Site-Based Council member, questioned the equity that such formula cuts actually provide. She listed the many electives that Seldovia Middle School, one of similar size to Seward Middle School, offers. Their students get art, photography, robotics, concert band, mixed choir, drum line, and much more. This year, SMS electives were drama, smart board, music appreciation and year book, she said. Next year, with an expected decline in students, no electives may be available unless they are provided in the regular classrooms. “It’s stark the difference between what’s available to our students and the other students,” VanBuskirk said.

Other schools on the peninsula have really great art classes, said Seward parent/site based council member Amy Hankins. “But here, we’re fighting for a highly qualified science teacher.”

“That’s a slippery slope to make that kind of argument,” warned board president Arness.  “If you add teachers arbitrarily for one school over another, you’ll get schools fighting with other schools. It becomes a question of who’s going to shout the loudest and who’s going to bring in the most people (to meetings). I wouldn’t want to be on the board if we did that.”

Pastor Jim Doepken, who is moving to Seward next year, along with his own two sets of school-age twins, said two of his daughters are currently performing in a musical at their South Anchorage high school, and one of his kids enjoys playing flag football. He’s wondering how they will do here without their passions available to them. But, he said parents and community members could help fill in the gaps, and help provide children those activities that the schools can’t due to their size.

 

12 Comments

  1. Thanks to Amy and Mica and the rest of the parents that I’m certain were there. The board president can warn all he wants about a “slippery slope” if Seward parents just sit idle our kids will get short changed. Seems from their research they already have to an extent so we might as well not let it get any worse. I’ll touch base with you two ladies so I can get better informed and add my voice as well.

  2. Thank you for the article. I just wanted to make a clarification. I teach math and science at Seward Middle School and am certified by the State of Alaska in 7-12 Math, 7-12 General Science, Physics and Geophysics. It will be a shame if we are not able to have our other science teacher on staff next year, but if that is the case, we will still be teaching a rigorous science curriculum taught by a highly qualified teacher. What we will lack is diversity in programs, staff and offerings.
    ~Naomi Wade

  3. Start by removing athletics for all schools -no cross country, basketball.Focus on core subjects for the children to progress Seward is going have to learn to budget. Have the community to step up and support any extra curricular activity. With the dropping numbers and jobs it appears Seward is slowly dying…

    • I agree that Seward is slowly dying…. And unless the district takes Seward seriously, it will continue to do so. Removing the athletics program is just as ridiculous as not having enough staff to give our children the full curriculum that they deserve. It is sad, but I am taking my children out of the school system and to another district because of all these issues.

  4. Mica Van Buskirk says:

    I have been in Seward for 17 years now and I have to object to the claim that Seward is dying! There is far more growth and economic development going on in Seward right now than I have ever seen! Specific to Seward schools, they are absolutely not dying! There is an enrollment dip that is currently affecting the Middle School but this will be changing very soon. Seward Elementary School had record enrollment this year and had to hire two new teachers when school started last fall due to the unexpected high enrollemnt. While the enrollment across the Kenai Peninsula has been steadily declining, Seward student enrollment has been increasing. In addition, test score for the kids in Seward have been significantly higher than those of the students in the rest of the District and Alaska! SEWARD SCHOOLS ARE ALIVE AND WELL!! Our goal right now is to identify some areas that could be improved and work to make our schools EVEN BETTER! There are huge opportunities available to our kids in our schools. This article does not highlight all the good going on in our schools, just a few spots that could be improved.

    • Mica, I love your enthusiasm and positive out look. And though I am aware of the increase in student body with the Kindergarten class (one of them is mine), I have to worry about my 4th grader. The issues currently are bleak. I have to say I have been impressed with the teaching staff in the elementary. However, after working to get my oldest into the Quest program I was sad to learn as they progressed in the schools there is less and less support and opportunity for my advanced student. There are not enough credits to keep a full day for most of the high school students. I think that is a travesty. I think it is impressive that test scores have gone up… I would love to know what grade level these scores are for.

      Look Mica…. I think it is impressive and admirable what parents like you and Amy are doing to advocate our students. If I was not already so jaded I would be more supportive…. but alas it is too late for me.

      I honestly think if I hadn’t watched the Council and Administration in town shoot itself in the foot soo many times over the past decade, I would believe that we have viable economic growth occurring and coming… I just don’t trust it. And with that I don’t trust that the Borough will give Seward what it needs to give our children the education that each of them deserve…….

      Cutting Sports and Arts in any capacity is wrong. And I agree with Pam, it is the escape from home life that many of our towns kids need… we are cheating them… even if for a bit, while we have a dip in numbers.

      And I apologize to the Grammar police for the choppy responce. My children are the smart ones, and I intend on keeping it that way.

    • Bravo Mica! Thank you for your dedication and hard work. As for other comments in this thread, I strongly disagree with the statement that Seward is “dying.” I think it is a vibrant town with plenty of movers & shakers who find ways to enrich our community and infuse it with opportunities that reach many audiences. If you’re looking for the pulse of our town, there are more indicators than school population in a given time frame. I’ve moved many, many times in my life and have lived in communities all around our country, both large and small. I raised seven children who attended charter schools, private schools, and public schools from Seward, Alaska, to Oxford, Wisconsin, to Chapel Hill, N.C., and more. From my experiences, I feel confident that the blips we’re facing right now are NOT evidence of a dying town. They’re just blips–nothing more. The rest of the evidence says we’re alive. We have so much here, and you don’t have to look hard to find it. Off the top of my head, I applaud the Seward Arts Council (and all its affiliates like the Port City Players and the Mural Society), our fantastic library and museum, the tourism industry and all that goes with that, our diverse cultural mix (here’s a shout out to the Quetekcak Tribe & its contributions to community life), all the teachers/administrators who give 200% to enrich the lives of Seward’s students, enough summer athletic opportunities to keep 2- to 95-year-olds active, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls Club and the summer Da Vinci Camp, a computer programming club (new), never-ending beauty, AVTEC, and so much more. As for that magnifying glass being put on our city council—pull it back for the broader view. I think the most hurtful policies are happening at a much higher level of government than our city council. If you must look local, then I ask, is there somewhere on earth where political entities (large or small) make nothing but fruitful decisions? I feel sad that “tread lightly” will be looking for greener grass in another town, and I suspect that wherever he or she takes his or her family, there will be problems there too. Seward is as close to heaven as I’ve come in my entire life.

  5. I agree Mica, we are having a baby boom in Seward. 60 Kindergarden students! However, we are seeing the bottom of the ‘dip’ coming through the Middle School in the next couple of years. The Middle School experience we have today is so far better than it was 10 years ago! New facility, pro-active (fantastic)faculty.
    While not the ideal, I do support the 6th grade move that is being considered. Those students by the middle of the year are ready. As for funding, every budget year we hear a similar story of a projected short fall and where can we ‘cut’? Usually it’s the curriculum that gets it, is that the only way to reduce costs?

  6. What about the Balto School? What’s Seward going to be like when another school is added to the picture.

  7. I have been trying hard to keep my mouth shut. Its hard. Born and raised and grad. Taking away sports is like taking a kids escape from home life away. Sometimes that is what might keep them going. I can say from my own life. If not from sports my life might have been…..

    • I am so glad sports played a part in my life in seward.

    • The Seward Schools Site-Based Council, the school administrators, and many other very interested parties are working hard to assure that sports programs will continue at our schools. We just had a “huge” community meeting about the low enrollment at the middle school (a meeting that was well-advertised), and if you subtracted the teachers & administrators from the crowd, I think there were five families that attended. I was very disappointed. If anyone out there in Seward-land would like to have a say about what is happening with our schools, please take the survey that will be posted later this week (probably by me – as the Site Council secretary). You can also check out the Site Council’s blog and read the news and very detailed meeting minutes at http://sssbc.blogs.kpbsd.k12.ak.us/wpmu/. In other words, if you’re concerned, there are many platforms available for you to voice your concerns and get involved in addition to leaving replies on Seward City News. As somebody famous once said, “Better towns come from better involvement from better people who better stay put.” Who said that? I’ll Google it…