Gov. Dunleavy making his budget announcement on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. The governor’s strategy of targeting cuts that could be covered by federal COVID-19 relief struck some legislators as risky. House Speaker Bryce Edgemon (I-Dillingham) responded, “From our initial understanding, federal funds can only be used for expenditures incurred due to COVID-19, not expenditures unrelated to the COVID-19 response. The governor’s vetoes gamble with vital programs like Medicaid, community assistance, school bond debt reimbursement, K-12 education, homeless grants, the Alaska Marine Highway System, public broadcasting, the university, and more. There is no guarantee that the federal government will pick up the tab. This approach is incredibly troubling to me.” (Image/Office of the Governor)

The governor’s veto of $30 million in education funding on Tuesday (4-7-20) has radically altered the budget picture for the Sitka School District.

The veto will cost Sitka’s schools an estimated $276,000 in lost revenues.


Note: The Sitka School Board will hold its next budget work session 6 P.M. Thursday, April 9. You can find the link to attend the meeting on the Sitka schools website.

Sitka superintendent Mary Wegner says the budget conversation in the district has now changed. She told KCAW “We didn’t assume we’d get it, but getting it meant that we didn’t have to cut.” Until Tuesday’s vetoes, the district was working on a budget deficit of only about $25,000.

Watch the Governor’s April 7, 2020, budget briefing.

The prospect of a year without a budget struggle meant a very light turnout for a public hearing before the Sitka School Board Monday evening (4-6-20). Only 20 people logged in to the remote meeting — about ⅓ the number of participants who had recently attended meetings to choose an interim superintendent.

And there was only one question from the public. From Roxann Gagner, the president of the Sitka Education Association.

Her question was then answered by board president Elias Erickson.

Gagner – I’m just wondering with the state of funding, and income, for the city — what kind of information have we gotten back on them for their desire to fully fund to the cap? I’m just curious whether that will actually happen.

Erickson – I know at this point they have voted to include full funding for the school district in their budget, and they have not made any changes to their FY21 budget since then. And so at this point, yes they’re still en route to carry that out, however I don’t believe the budget has been adopted in its final form yet. However there haven’t been any changes to that.

The Sitka Assembly on February 6 in fact did approve (6-1 with Richard Wein opposed) funding the school district to “the cap,” or the maximum allowed by state law. In Sitka’s case: $7.6 million dollars. But that was just a step along the path to producing a finished budget. Much has changed since then: first, a global pandemic and travel ban that will undermine the city’s revenue forecast for the summer visitor season, and now the governor’s vetoes. In addition to taking out the $30 million in direct funding for schools, Gov. Dunleavy on Tuesday vetoed $100 million in school bond debt reimbursement and $32 million in community assistance — cuts that will affect Sitka’s municipal budget by several hundred thousand dollars.