The Sitka school board wants to develop a more strategic budgeting process in the next couple of years — assuming the state government is functioning and lawmakers fund education.

The Sitka Assembly will hold a budget worksession 6 PM Thursday (5-21-15) in Harrigan Centennial Hall to discuss school funding, as well as other financial matters for the city.

At its worksession Tuesday night (5-19-15), the board exchanged some ideas — and a little nervous laughter — over the prospect of a government shutdown, which Gov. Walker has warned will happen if legislators don’t break their budget deadlock by July 1.

The full impact of a government shutdown on schools isn’t known. The shutdown would put about 15,000 state employees out of work, and leave the Department of Education with only 28-percent of the funds needed to run schools.

“That means we’ll have 10 teachers for 1,300 students, or some ridiculous thing like that,” says Lon Garrison, the president of the Sitka school board. “We’ve gotta hope that a little more sanity will prevail and folks will figure this thing out.”

The board has already passed a budget for next year of around $20-million dollars, with three fewer staff than this year. The Sitka assembly hasn’t given its final approval to that budget yet, and is still looking for an appropriate mechanism to provide the district an additional $1-million to balance its books.

Nevertheless, the district still has 9 vacant positions to fill. Superintendent Mary Wegner told the board that she preferred to make the new hires, rather than wait and see what happened in the legislature.

“If we get to the point of 28-percent as Lon mentioned, everything’s going to be different. We’re going to have our best chance to get our best quality candidates before school ends, which is next week. We’ve been interviewing. We have some really high-quality candidates that we want to offer (letters of) intents to. In the intent, we can say ‘based on state funding,’ but we’re still legally liable to them. But we’d have to reevaluate everything then, and I don’t want to lose good people.”

The current special legislative session is scheduled to end on May 27. But so far, legislators have made little headway toward resolving the impasse over the state’s $3-billion deficit.

Apart from the immediate crisis, the school board is looking for ways to improve its budgeting process, which is currently built around trying to estimate the number of students enrolled in a given year. District business manager Cassee Olin suggested several strategies already in use around the state which project 3-year budgets based on community demographic data. She suggested it would take much of the guesswork out of building budgets.

The board asked Olin to develop a proposal for transitioning to the new strategy in the coming years.