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Anchorage School Board budget vote postponed

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: September 30, 2016
  • Published February 16, 2016

The Anchorage School Board unanimously voted Tuesday evening to push back a vote on next school year's preliminary budget until Thursday to give board members more time to look over financial information.

"I know that we will have the opportunity to make changes in the budget later, but we're also sending a direction out to the administrators that this is what you should plan to go forward with," said board member Pat Higgins, who proposed the amendment to postpone a vote.

But before board members voted to wait until Thursday, they passed a series of amendments to next school year's proposed budget, including one that decreased it by $2.1 million because of different enrollment projections.

Instead of crafting the budget around a projected enrollment of 155 more students next school year, the budget is now designed for 60 fewer students — a number that aligns with the school district's six-year capital improvement plan.

The board also passed two amendments to trim funding from administrative departments next school year and put that money toward adding back teachers if enrollment totals differ from projections.

In a 4-3 vote, the board passed an amendment to cut $80,000 from the communications department. In a 6-1 vote, it passed an amendment to cut $150,000 from the maintenance and operations departments to offset the cost of a new director of safety and security.

"This is not the time, during declining revenue, to be adding more administrative positions," said board member Kathleen Plunkett.

The board also voted 6-1 to reduce the district's and board's total travel and per diem costs by 25 percent, or $50,000. Higgins voted against this amendment, saying he supported opportunities for professional development.

Taken together, all of the amendments only slightly altered the preliminary budget proposed in late January by the Anchorage School District administration.

To close a nearly $11 million budget gap, the administration's proposed budget increased class sizes across the school district by one student each and cut 80 full-time teaching jobs to save $8 million.

The budget also included 32 new teacher positions because of the increased enrollment projections. However, with the new enrollment numbers used Tuesday, 21 of those positions have been eliminated, said Andy Ratliff, executive director of the school district's Office of Management and Budget.

Other positions cut in the proposed budget include one full-time job in the IGNITE gifted program, a library resources clerk, two carpenters and three assistant principals.

Positions added in the proposed budget include about 15 special education positions and about five new full-time jobs to support students learning English.

The proposed budget, with the amendments passed, totals about $560 million in general funds. This school year, the general fund totaled about $569.1 million.

District administrators built next school year's budget around a $50 increase in the per-pupil funding from the state, included in the omnibus education bill passed by Alaska legislators in 2014. It also included the accompanying increase in local property taxes.

If the state Legislature — grappling with a multibillion-dollar deficit — decides to fund public schools below what was included in the 2014 education bill, the board will have to again revisit the budget, which several members indicated Tuesday that they expect to do.

"Whether it's now or in two months, when we finally get the Legislature's budget -- there's going to be more cuts coming," board member Elisa Snelling said.

The board members also voted to postpone a vote on the school district's six-year capital improvement plan

They are scheduled to vote on the budget at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Corrections: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect projection for student enrollment. It also incorrectly said the votes on the amendments were unanimous; some were, but not all.

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