The Anchorage School Board has approved the addition of nearly $21 million to the district's budgets for this school year and the next.
All the money will be pulled from the Anchorage School District's unassigned fund balance -- a pool of cash expected to grow by millions of dollars this school year as the district spends less than it budgeted for.
In a unanimous vote Monday, the board put the largest chunk of money, $17 million, toward next school year's budget in an effort to soften the blow of a projected $19.8 million budget deficit. The district administration recommended the $17 million allocation in a memo presented to the board.
"We expect that to significantly diminish the need for staff reductions," Mark Foster, the district's chief financial officer, said Tuesday. "There may be some reductions in support staff, and when we say support staff, that's outside of direct instruction and instructional support."
This school year, the district has struggled with hiring and retaining staff, one the main drivers of its underspent budget.
School officials have said the problem may stem from a culture in which teachers grow tired of the district's budget cutting process -- a cycle propelled by misaligned budget schedules for the district and Alaska Legislature. For the 2014-15 school year, the district issued layoff notices to dozens of teachers, then rehired all but three.
"One of our major problems right now is retaining our teachers," said board member Tam Agosti-Gisler at Monday's meeting. "I think the use of this money will go a long way in terms of calming the tumultuous situation that we have this year. It does not address our future funding challenges, but it does make an impact for those kids who are going to be students in our district for the 2015-16 school year."
In a second vote Monday, the board passed recommendations proposed by Ed Graff, district superintendent, to spend money in the second semester of this school year on items including staffing, substitute teachers and summer school.
The board passed one amendment to Graff's proposal, voting to put an additional $268,000 toward reducing class sizes for 21 secondary education core classes in which the class size exceeds 35 students.
Board member Pat Higgins proposed the amendment, calling the initial proposal "more conservative than we should be."
In total, nearly $3.98 million will be added to this school year's budget. Of that, $982,000 is considered ongoing costs that will be incurred in future budget years. Most of that money comes from a boost to substitute teacher salaries and bonuses.
By the end of June 2015 -- with the new spending included -- the district projects it will have just over $12 million remaining in its unassigned fund balance that the board can use at its discretion.
Graff is scheduled to release his draft of next year's budget on Jan. 20, Foster said.