The Anchorage School District is trying to deal with a projected $25 million budget shortfall for next year. But the financial chasm is projected to deepen, with an estimated budget gap of $49 million through the 2015-2016 school year. And with declining state revenues, ASD is not expecting the Alaska Legislature to fill the financial hole.
ASD presented its budget predicament at a joint meeting of the Anchorage Assembly and Anchorage School Board on Friday morning. The bottom line: 600 or more positions may have to be cut over the next two years, with up to 214 of those coming from teaching positions. The remaining 392 positions cuts would come from support staff. About 3,500 teachers work in the school district.
The district has faced funding shortfalls over most of the last five years. A $25 million budget deficit for the current school year was closed by spending some of the district's budget reserves and cuts to such things as support staff, services, and supplies. Teaching positions were not included in the cuts for the 2012-2013 school year. But that will not likely be the case next year or the year after that. And the teaching positions that will likely be cut over the next few years won't all come from teachers who retire or leave their job.
"I expect the depth of the cuts to go beyond attrition," said ASD's chief financial officer, Mark Foster. "We will probably be laying off people who are providing services in the classrooms."
The cuts come at a time when the school district is trying to improve student performance, attendance and graduation rates. ASD has a goal attaining a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020, up from the current four-year high school graduation rate of about 76 percent. Early literacy programs are also a priority for the district that could be hampered by budget cuts. And getting students reading early can be an important factor in their later success or failure.
"Florida evaluates the number of its elementary school students who cannot read by the end of third grade, and that's the number of new jail cells they plan for in 20 years," said Natasha von Imhoff, vice president of the Anchorage School Board.
The Anchorage School District receives a mix of federal, state and municipal funding. For the 2012-2013 school year -- not including capital projects, debts service payments and pension contributions -- the state of Alaska paid for about $356 million of the district's general operating budget. The municipality paid $193 million through property taxes. Federal grants totaled $16.5 million.
In past years, when the school district has faced large budget deficits, the Alaska Legislature has helped out with additional funding, but ASD doesn't expect that to happen much longer, making the current budget crunch much more critical than in years past.
"From 2002 to 2010, the state's revenue trend was up," Foster said. "So it was easy for the Legislature to ride to the rescue, which they frequently did. But they are no longer going to ride to the rescue under the current revenue predictions. That's the difference."
Contact Sean Doogan at sean(at)alaskadispatch.com.