The Sitka School District is looking at a $1.6-million deficit next year, and it’s unlikely that the city will ride to the rescue.

The school board and the Sitka assembly met in an informal work session last week (Wed 2-10-16) to go over the early numbers for next year — and they are not promising.

Downloadable audio.

Upcoming school budget hearings:
7 PM Wednesday, March 2 – Sitka High School library
6:30 – 8 PM Monday, March 7 – Raven Radio Call-in
6 PM Wednesday, March 9 – District Office Board Room (work session only)

The $1.6-million is not as dire as it sounds. Almost half of the deficit could be erased with a reduction in anticipated insurance premiums, and there’s a longshot notion that the state legislature may actually find a way to increase school funding, despite facing an enormous budget deficit of its.

Speaking to the board, Mayor Mim McConnell did not mince words.

“I guess my question would be, what are you looking to cut? Because we’re going to be doing the same thing. And I think it’s going to be one of those years. This is going to be my seventh time doing this, and I’ve never seen it this bad. I never seen people truly believing that the sky is going to fall.”

McConnell said that the city is looking at an estimated budget deficit itself next year. $4-million give or take, depending on many factors that have not yet fallen into place.

The schools are a big part of the city budget. $6.7-million in city funding went to schools this year, paying for everything from basic operations to the Blatchley pool, to Community Schools.

Last year, the city even threw in an extra $1-million to make ends meet for the schools. She was making no such promises this year.

“You’re looking at needing a lot more than there’s money for. I think we all just need to be realistic about what’s ahead, and work together to try and make it all work for everyone.”

The Sitka School Board has faced tough budget questions before. Last year they dropped 2-and-a-half staff positions, and outsourced Community Schools to a private contractor.

Member Cass Pook said that the district had done all it could to find efficiencies in the classroom. And it had run out of options.

“But we have no wiggle room anymore. We have no back up. We’re there. This is the year that it will be positions.”

Pook said it will be up to the community to take a look at what they wanted to keep in the schools, and what to cut. She said all sports and programs would be considered.

Except for Community Schools, no district staff were laid off as a result of last year’s cuts. Still, Superintendent Mary Wegner said that losing over two positions to attrition affected programs at the high school.

“We cut too far in staff last year, but we had to do it to balance the budget. I don’t know how we cut more staff, seriously, and keep our schools. We are hurting with the position cuts we took last year. It’s negatively impacting the school experience of every secondary student, because that’s where the cuts were taken.

Both the city and the schools undertake lengthy budget processes in the spring. This work session was just the first step. Budget hearings are scheduled for school staff and the community over the next several weeks. The board hopes to submit a completed budget to the assembly in April.