Anchorage School District faces uncertainty ahead of Tuesday budget vote

The Anchorage School Board is set to vote Tuesday on whether to approve a budget for the upcoming school year that addresses a nearly $100 million deficit. The district’s $621 million budget proposal includes larger class sizes, nearly 100 fewer staff positions and the effective end of the IGNITE program for gifted students, among other cuts.

Board members said Friday that a new state education bill that overwhelmingly passed in the Alaska House late Thursday has the potential to address many of the district’s budget woes and eliminate the need for many of those cuts, including IGNITE.

The bill — which includes a historic $680 boost to the Base Student Allocation, the state’s per-student funding formula — still needs Senate approval before it would head to Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy for his consideration. Dunleavy can sign or veto the bill — or do neither, causing the bill to automatically become law.

But because of the tight timeline for when the board must vote on a balanced budget, and because Dunleavy has not yet indicated whether he supports the bill, Anchorage School Board members said they were uncertain whether, as part of next week’s budget decision, they would be able to consider the additional funding provided in that legislation.

“Right now, the bill represents money that we don’t have,” board president Margo Bellamy said in a text message Friday. She said if the governor were to sign or indicate support for the bill before Tuesday, the board would consider altering their budget before voting on it next week.

By Friday afternoon, Dunleavy had not publicly indicated whether he supported the bill. His spokesman, Jeff Turner, wrote in an email Friday that “the bill still must pass the senate on a concurrence vote or go through the conference committee process. When the bill passes the legislature and is transmitted to (the governor’s) office he will review it and make his decision.”

The Anchorage School Board is required under the city’s charter to approve a balanced budget for the Anchorage Assembly to review by the first week of March.


Bellamy said that the board is able to amend its budget “at any time to reflect whatever bill the governor signs.”

[Earlier coverage: Anchorage School District walks back plan to cut dedicated elementary art classes and health instructors]

In an interview, board member Kelly Lessens said she had calculated what a $680-per-pupil funding increase could mean for the school district: close to $49 million in additional funding, which could be used to reverse the majority of the proposed budget cuts to instruction and help the district retain more of its emergency savings.

Anchorage School District administrators reached Friday were not able to confirm the projected funding increase that would come from the bill, which Lessens had estimated as nearly half of the district’s projected budget deficit for the upcoming year.

Without the state funding, the district’s budget cuts include: eliminating nearly 100 staff positions, including 36 full-time teachers as a result of an increase to the pupil-teacher ratio; increasing class sizes for all students in the fourth grade and older; axing the IGNITE program; increasing activity and rental fees; reducing summer school options; cutting back on school supply purchases; and spending down nearly all of the district’s rainy-day savings account.

“We are grateful to the House for passing” the education bill, school district spokesman MJ Thim said in a text message. “We know these decisions are not easy, but certainly necessary when the future of public education is at risk. We are encouraged and eagerly awaiting what occurs in the Senate on Monday before the Board begins to deliberate the preliminary budget on Tuesday.”

The new state education spending package represents the largest increase to school formula funding in state history — although education advocates have said a funding boost twice that size is needed, given that the BSA has not significantly increased since 2017.

Lessens called the funding boost “a Band-Aid” that could significantly help the district balance this year’s budget but was not enough to address future deficits and funding needs.

Board member Andy Holleman called the funding increase “a great thing” and said that he hopes to be able to walk back some of the proposed cuts as a result.

“There’s a huge reaction from the public for us to continue IGNITE,” Holleman said. “We all hate that this (program) keeps coming up year after year after year. Unless we get on a real inflation-proof cycle, that probably will continue.”

If it’s passed by the school board at their Tuesday night meeting and by the Anchorage Assembly next month, the new budget will go into effect July 1.

Daily News reporter Sean Maguire contributed from Juneau.

Annie Berman

Annie Berman is a reporter covering health care, education and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in San Francisco before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at