Gov. Dunleavy’s veto of $175 million in school funding will have an impact on the Sitka School District budget – but how it will shake out has yet to be determined. One bright spot for the district’s finances, however, could be the addition of homeschooled students from around the state.
The governor announced his annual veto package on the federal Juneteenth holiday on June 19, which did not give the Sitka district administration time to come up with a new spending plan before the school board’s regular meeting on June 20.
In short, the veto amounts to a 50-percent decrease ($340) in the one-time boost ($680) the legislature had approved for schools statewide this coming year. Sitka, however, was a bit more cautious in writing its budget, and never planned to get all that extra funding. Instead, Sitka’s schools are looking at a decrease of about 20-percent below what was budgeted.
Still, it took hours of work and worry to write a conservative budget, and board member Todd Gebler was not happy about seeing the governor shoot it down.
“It’s still digesting with me and I’m still in the anger phase as far as my emotions go,” Gebler said. “There will be more to come.”
The actual cash reduction for Sitka is $287,000 – a significant hit to a budget that typically runs to about $20 million. What it will mean for class sizes and staffing will have to be ironed out during a budget revision later this summer. Superintendent Frank Hauser is on his way out at the end of the month, having taken the top job in the Juneau School District next year. He told board members that he and business manager Leslie Young will nevertheless start crunching new numbers right away.
“ And so that’ll be something that the board will be talking to in the business office,” said Hauser. “We’ll be putting together some of those numbers. Obviously, we weren’t able to get those numbers fast enough and turned around in the short amount of time we have for this meeting. But we’ll be working on some updates for the board around what those final numbers look like.”
Finalizing a new budget will fall to the board and interim superintendent Steve Bradshaw, who takes over the district on July 1.
One development that could help support the district’s finances was well-received by the board: The district’s REACH Homeschool program is now available statewide. Superintendent Hauser said the change had been approved by the state Department of Education, and that two out-of-town students were already enrolled for next year.
Hauser said it was a good way for families to remain connected to the district if they move to other communities in the state. And the boost in enrollment numbers certainly won’t hurt.
“Being able to open up our homeschool program to provide homeschool opportunities for students across the state of Alaska provides the possibility for additional student numbers to come in as we start having conversations about enrollment numbers,” Hauser said.
Each student enrolled in the REACH Homeschool program counts as 90-percent of a full, local enrollment, even if they live elsewhere.