After a mix-up between the assembly and the school board led to an unanticipated funding shortage for the school district, the Sitka Assembly is ponying up more money for Sitka’s schools. When the group met in a special meeting on Thursday (4-1-21) it approved an increase in funding for the district. But the money will only go through if Secure Rural Schools is reauthorized.
Secure Rural Schools is federal funding the city receives that can only be spent on schools and roads. It’s not guaranteed, and was only reauthorized a few years ago. Typically the city and the school district split the pot 50/50. But member Kevin Mosher, who initially voted against funding Sitka’s schools to “the cap” proposed the additional funding, promising 100 percent of Secure Rural Schools funds, if received, to the school district.
“This is a compromise where the city will not have to expend anymore funds out of pocket. Usually it comes out around $500,000. If it was a windfall and it was a million, I would sincerely hope that the school district would consider allowing the city to retain some of that,” he said. “But I think this is a way to deal with the deficit funding for the schools as well as not have us put any cash out.”
The money is meant to help close the $565,000 shortfall outlined in a letter from School Board President Amy Morrison to the assembly on March 31.
Most assembly members supported Mosher’s motion, but member Thor Christianson suggested amending it so the amount the school board receives will be capped at $600,000, should SRS be a surprise windfall. Member Rebecca Himschoot said she preferred handing over all of the funding, saying the district could use any extra to bolster their reserves. The amendment passed 5-2 with members Himschoot and Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz opposed.
Eisenbeisz said he had come to the meeting planning to offer no more funding for schools. But Mosher changed his mind.
“To hear the motion come from Kevin Mosher , who was the lone vote against the amount, and to hear Kevin Mosher want to step up and help, 100 percent swayed me,” he said. “If someone who stood by his guns, and stood by his beliefs and convictions and was the only vote against the funding previously and for very justified reasons…wanted to then bring an amendment forward for more funding? Sure, I’ll jump on board with you.”
Finance Director Melissa Haley said they should know how much the city will receive in Secure Rural Schools funding within the next couple of months, but added that promising the unbudgeted amount would add some challenges. If the money doesn’t come through by the time the city must confirm their commitment to the school district, they’d need to revisit the item. Member Rebecca Himschoot said she hoped making the commitment was enough for the time being.
“I don’t see any need to do anything right now except make the commitment so we’re not moving any money,” she said. “The district does have some kind of arc which they call CARES 3, coming in which can bridge them, until this money comes in, if it does.”
The motion to commit the Secure Rural Schools funds to the district passed 6-1. Member Nelson was the lone dissenting voice against the motion. She said the community should consider other options for funding schools, like a local school tax in the future.