When the Sitka Assembly met last Thursday (2-26-21), it voted to fund the Sitka School District to the cap, or the maximum allowed by state law. Sitka schools will receive $7,764,150 in city funding next fiscal year.
That also includes around $150,000 for building maintenance and up to $57,000 to cover utilities at the Performing Arts Center.
Assembly member Rebecca Himschoot is a teacher in the school district– she said funding to the cap was necessary, almost now more than ever.
“When we get our kids back, I hope full-time next year, the work that we, and I’m speaking as a teacher right now, will need to do is immense, for our families and for our students,” she said.
“When I see kids working as hard as our kids are to get an education, I say let me do everything I can to make that happen,” she said.
Last year, the assembly voted to fund schools to the cap. But the state raised the amount the city could contribute this year, squeezing the city coffers a little tighter. That’s why member Kevin Mosher made a motion to fund schools at 7.5 Million, but it failed for a lack of a second. He said he couldn’t support funding to the cap.
“I don’t think this is a discussion about the value that the school district brings. That’s, you know, unquestionable. Huge value. My only concerns are what we can afford,” he said. “It’s not because I don’t support the schools, we just don’t have a lot of money going around.”
At the last school funding meeting, Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz expressed uncertainty around school funding. Canada had just announced an extension of its cruise ship ban, a major hit to Southeast’s summer tourism and the city budget. But Eisenbeisz said his approach to the school’s budget had shifted.
“For the last, what, seven school board budget cycles, I’ve always come into this with the perspective of ‘Why should I fund to the cap?'” he said. “I think in the last couple of weeks I’ve changed my mindset. I want to start approaching school board budgets with a different mindset, and that’s ‘Why shouldn’t I fund to the cap?'” he continued.
“And let me tell you,” he said, “it’s really hard to find reasons to fund to the cap, but it’s even harder to find reasons why you shouldn’t.”
The motion to fund to the cap passed 5-1 with member Kevin Mosher opposed. Member Valorie Nelson was absent. Even with the full funding from the city, the school district will have to cut 5 jobs, mostly teaching positions across the entire district, to help close its budget gap.
But the schools may receive another small windfall from the city. Included in the agreement was a promise to share $250,000 of Secure Rural Schools funding with the school district, if the program is renewed. That’s federal funding that can be used for schools or road maintenance, and the city has traditionally split it with the schools 50/50.
The Assembly will meet for another budget discussion on Thursday, March 4, at 6 p.m. to review the draft general fund budget.