Anchorage school administrators warn of staff cuts after Dunleavy’s $87.5 million education veto

Anchorage school administrators warned in a letter to state legislators that the school district could eliminate hundreds of positions, unless the Legislature overrides the governor’s $87.5 million veto of public school funding.

State legislators appropriated $175 million for schools outside of the normal funding formula. The Anchorage School District, which educates roughly 40% of Alaska students, had been slated to receive almost $50 million in additional state dollars for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

After signing the budget last week, Dunleavy announced that he had vetoed $87.5 million of the one-time public school funding approved by the Legislature, reducing Anchorage’s allotment to approximately $25 million.

Anchorage Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt and Anchorage School Board President Margo Bellamy wrote a letter to Anchorage-based state legislators Friday, requesting that the Legislature call a special session to override Dunleavy’s school-funding veto.

“The disruptive veto decision unnecessarily causes stress on an already vulnerable public education system,” they said. “Alaska state law is clear on the roles and responsibility of funding Alaska’s public education system.”

Two-thirds of legislators would need to support calling a special session to override the governor’s veto. Across the political spectrum, state legislators have said that is currently unlikely. The 17-member bipartisan Senate majority is expected to have enough votes, but the House does not — largely because of opposition from the Republican-led House majority.

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House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, an Anchorage independent, wrote Monday to Republican House Speaker Cathy Tilton, requesting that she poll House members to see whether there are enough votes to call for a special session.

Under state statute, 25% of House members need to sign a request in writing for the House speaker to hold a formal poll for a special session. Monday’s letter was signed by all 16 members of the Democrat-dominated minority, or 40% of the 40-member House.

Schrage said he thought that veto override supporters were at least a few votes shy of calling a special session, but that pressure from local school officials could build in the coming weeks and see some legislators flip.

Three-quarters of legislators would need to support overriding any or all of the governor’s vetoes. Supporters and opponents in both legislative chambers say that high threshold is unlikely to be met.

Anchorage School District’s budget for the fiscal year is balanced, but that was reliant on increased class sizes, Bryantt and Bellamy said. Next year would be more difficult as the state’s largest school district would face a $65 million budget shortfall, caused partly by Dunleavy’s veto.

The district may need to cut hundreds of staff positions, Bryantt and Bellamy said, which would halt hiring efforts to replace retiring employees and trigger layoffs. If the school board does not save the entire $25 million in one-time state funding to fill Anchorage’s fiscal gap, district officials said that the deficit would balloon further and require more layoffs.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said the letter “just shows the catastrophic impacts that will occur” from the smaller-than-expected funding boost for school districts.

Permanently increasing school funding was a top priority for many in the Legislature this year. Education advocates said that a roughly $1,300 increase to the Base Student Allocation, the state’s per-student funding formula, was needed after years of flat state funding and high inflation.

A one-time $175 million school funding boost — equivalent to a $680 BSA increase — was approved in the budget as a compromise by a solid majority of state legislators. Discussions about longer-term school funding increases were pushed to next year.

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If long-shot efforts to call a special session fail, legislators could override the governor’s veto in a joint session within five days of convening the next regular legislative session in January

Bellamy and Bryantt said additional funding approved next year would still cause challenges for school administrators. The Anchorage School District budget is typically prepared and finalized in March, months before the Legislature approves a state operating budget.

“Our best teachers and staff will have already found jobs in other states or districts or will have left the profession altogether,” Bellamy and Bryantt wrote. “Trying to hire staff back in June or July is problematic as our most qualified staff have easily found other employment opportunities as teachers are in short supply nationwide.”

Anchorage School District employs roughly 6,000 people. Spokesperson MJ Thim said by email that roughly 90% of the district’s revenue is used for employee salaries and benefits, meaning that the bulk of a $65 million shortfall would likely be felt by staff.

Corey Aist, president of the Anchorage Education Association, represents around 3,000 Anchorage educators who are members of the local union. He said that “we absolutely have a staffing crisis” and that Dunleavy’s veto would likely see community uproar as the school board starts again discussing ending popular programs and shuttering schools.

Dunleavy announced his budget vetoes last week through a press release, rather than a press conference, saying “this budget is a responsible path for Alaska’s financial future.” While Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans have spoken publicly in opposition to the governor’s school funding veto, conservative Republicans have supported it.

“The ASD will be receiving a one time increase to the BSA with no accountability as to where the money will be spent,” said Anchorage Republican Rep. Tom McKay, a member of the House Education Committee, by text message. “So I believe they should consider themselves very lucky.”


When Dunleavy’s $200 million in vetoes were announced, Tilton said through a prepared statement that the cuts reflected a balance of adequately funding education and the necessity of fiscal responsibility. She did not immediately reply to a request for comment Monday.

If Alaska’s oil production and prices meet projections made in March, the state could expect to have a roughly $300 million budget surplus.

Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at