Despite a lengthy meeting Thursday night (4-4-19), the Sitka School Board and Sitka Assembly have not agreed on terms for school funding next year.
The assembly has not yet decided how much money it will give the school district. City staff have recommended a budget that funds 92 percent of the maximum allowed by law, around $6.5 million dollars — which is over $700,000 less than the school district says it needs.
With a deficit anticipated next year due to lower enrollment and uncertain state funding, school board members said not receiving full funding from the city would result in even more cuts than the eight or nine positions currently on the table
But assembly member Valorie Nelson didn’t feel comfortable giving a definitive number to the school district until more was known about what was happening with the state budget, and after the assembly makes a decision on the sale of Sitka Community Hospital.
“I’m not in a position tonight where I can comfortably do that,” Nelson said. “I think a lot of this is really premature. And we still don’t know where we’re going to fall or where the dollars are going to fall until Juneau does what they’re going to do.”
Assembly member Kevin Mosher said he would be in favor of funding the district to the maximum — also known as the “cap” — while they figured out a solution for next year. Mosher also suggested taking an increase in the sales tax to a vote of the people, and if it passed, earmark those funds for the school district.
“In theory I would be in favor of a one-time subsidization, basically, to meet their budget needs.” Mosher said. “We can’t subsidize forever, but giving people time to adjust and come up with some type of plan I think would be appropriate.”
Sitka municipal administrator Keith Brady has proposed funding the district to 92 percent of the cap in next year’s city budget. Deputy Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz supported that plan, but assembly member Aaron Bean said the district should begin preparing in case the assembly offered a lower number. And assembly member Richard Wein said the district should look internally to see if there was any more wiggle room in the budget as the assembly was considering another $2 million in cuts to the city budget as well.
“I know you’ve cut to the bone but there’s marrow in the bone,” Wein said.
School board president Jennifer McNichol responded.
“Yeah there’s marrow there, but that marrow is going to take something away from students. They will be in larger classrooms, their teachers will be more stressed.”
The Sitka School Board will meet again on Friday, April 12, in the Sitka High School Library. The board is scheduled to have one final hearing — and adopt a budget for the assembly’s approval — on April 17.