When the governor told Alaskans he was signing the budget Monday, he spoke about restoring funding for multiple programs. But perhaps another “r” word is more accurate. He actually reversed his previous decision to veto the University of Alaska system’s funding by 40 percent. In the end, the university system will have its budget slashed by $25 million.
That has implications for University of Alaska Southeast’s Sitka satellite.
“We are anticipating that we still may see about a $200,000 cut to our budget,” says Campus Director Leslie Gordon.
How exactly the chips fall will be determined in the coming weeks. But the mood has lifted, at least for the time being. The Board of Regents lifted the declaration of “financial exigency” on Tuesday, meaning tenured faculty are no longer facing layoffs.
“In that meeting, President Johnson announced a thaw of the freeze that we have had on travel, hiring and procurement,” Gordon says. “Things are loosening up for us.”
Gordon says employees won’t be required to take 10-day furloughs. But she’s holding back on hiring for unfilled positions while waiting for the dust to settle.
“We’ve been managing our budget based on openings. For example we have a tenure track fish tech position that we haven’t hired. We have an open academic advising position as well as a janitorial position,” she says. “As people leave positions, we’re using that cost savings to try to protect the staff that we currently have.”
Gordon says she hopes in the next couple of weeks they can fill vacancies. And she reports enrollment is down 9 percent from this time last year. But she predicts they’ll see an uptick right before classes start next week.
Gov. Dunleavy has indicated he wants additional cuts in the coming years — so there’s continued uncertainty.
“The University is having workshops in Fairbanks and Anchorage this week to look at what we can do as a university to cut costs and go forward,’ she says. She says merging multiple campuses into one university is being considered. “The board of regents is going to meet in September. Things are moving forward very quickly, and we’re doing what we can to continue.”
Meanwhile at city hall, controller Melissa Haley says the City and Borough of Sitka is bracing for less state support that will have to be made up locally. The governor’s vetoes targeted the state’s reimbursement for school bond debt and other programs. Haley says the city wrote a tight budget, so it’s not going into the red. But in all, she estimates the city budgeted for $720,000 less in anticipation of the governor’s cost-cutting.
Some organizations were relieved by the budget. The governor reversed himself and left funding for Alaska Legal Services Corporation, which offers legal aid for Sitka’s needy. And he reversed a decision to cut broadband assistance for the digital library system and resources that benefit Sitka Public Library.
And the governor also reversed himself and didn’t touch funding for the Alaska State Council on the Arts. That was welcomed by arts nonprofits that put on the Sitka Summer Music Festival and The Sitka Fine Arts Camp. The arts camp had lost out on an $18,000 grant when the state’s arts council funding was vetoed in June.
“It’s generally used towards the summer camps we run- a mixture of things from supplementing travel for faculty members coming in, to providing financial aid for students,” says Rhiannon Guevin, the operations director for the camp.
She says the organization was going into this year with around $130,000 less in funding than previous years, after absorbing costs of operating the Sitka Performing Arts Center. So they’re glad the window for the state grant may have reopened.
“We’re thankful for everyone who made their voices heard about the importance of arts in our state. I think that message was heard loud and clear,” says Guevin. “Just showing that it’s unacceptable to be the only state in the nation that doesn’t have a state arts council.”
But not everyone made it through the other side with this round of cuts. For the second time, Dunleavy vetoed funding for programs that were included in HB2001, zeroing out all funding to public broadcasting, a $78,000 cut to KCAW. And he eliminated receipt authority for the new Mt. Edgecumbe Aquatic Center, rendering the pool unable to open or accept payment.
That leaves the pool’s future unclear. In a message to Raven News, Wednesday, Mt. Edgecumbe High School Superintendent Janelle Vanasse said they will begin drafting a plan with a closure date for the aquatic center.
A piece of red poster board leans against a chair, posted in the pool entrance. Put up in July after the first round of vetoes, it read “closed this week.” The words were later scratched out, replaced with “until further notice.”