Closing Pacific High looks like it’s off the table as a cost-saving measure for the Sitka School District next year. Community Schools, however, is not.
Sitka’s alternative high school and after-hours activity program occupied much of the Sitka School Board’s attention at its latest budget work session on Wednesday (3-27-19).
The other area of discussion was a recent legislative visit by district superintendent Mary Wegner, who reported that lawmakers of both parties opposed the governor’s proposal to cut $300 million from the state’s schools.
“One thing that we heard loud and clear, from Sen. Stedman and other senate Republicans: There’s no history of reducing the BSA, and no interest in doing so,” said Wegner.
The BSA stands for Base Student Allocation, or in other words, the amount of money the state spends on education for each student in kindergarten through grade 12. The BSA is stirred into an algorithm called the “Foundation Formula” that produces the amount of money each school district receives.
For the last three years the BSA has been just under $6,000 per student. In Sitka, that translates to roughly $12.6 million for the schools.
Even if the legislature keeps the BSA right where it’s been — and overrides a possible veto by the governor — the Sitka School District will still have to make significant cuts.
But it appears likely that Pacific High won’t be one of them. The alternative school program is linked to a federal grant that would have to be partially repaid if the school was closed. Board members Eric VanCise and Elias Erickson researched issue to see if Pacific High could be closed “without penalty” and concluded that it wasn’t possible to do so.
“I felt like it was an area that hadn’t been looked into a lot,” said Erickson, “and was worth looking into because there were a lot of things that were unclear to us — and there still are some things. However, I think generally we feel a lot more comfortable with our knowledge on that building and Pacific High School, and it’s just not an area of savings for us.”
Community Schools was a different matter. For the last two years the after-hours sports and activities program has been outsourced to a contractor, Matthew Turner, for $100,000 a year. That dollar figure equates with what is commonly assumed to be the cost of a classroom teacher.
Board member Eric VanCise believes a teacher is a higher priority.
“This is no disrespect to Matt Turner,” said VanCise, “but I don’t want structural money that could pay for a teacher to be paying for that position.”
But it might not mean the end of Community Schools. Superintendent Wegner said that she would solicit proposals from contractors who might want to take on the program — and bear the full expense. “The assumption,” said Wegner, “is that the contractor would have raise the fees to cover the costs.”
The Sitka School Board will meet three times in the near future to hear from the public on budget proposals for next year:
— 6 p.m. Monday, April 1, the board will hold a work session and public hearing on the budget at Sitka High School.
— 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 3, the board will hold a regular monthly meeting, hosted by the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood at ANB Founders Hall.
— 6 p.m. Thursday, April 4, the board will hold a school budget work session with the Sitka Assembly in Harrigan Centennial Hall.