Anchorage School District administrators said at a meeting Monday night that the district could face a budget gap next school year of $12 million to $20 million. And they asked the community what to do.
Using electronic, handheld clickers, the 30 people in Hanshew Middle School's auditorium voted that the school district should put more money toward classroom teachers, support teachers and teaching assistants.
When asked how the school district should cut its budget, the most clicked answer was: "Don't decrease the budget for any of these items." The items included teachers, nutrition and transportation.
(The second most popular answer took aim at cutting funds for principals, assistant principals and administrative assistants).
Overall, the most selected answer by participants said the school district should increase next school year's budget by 7 percent -- the highest option to click.
Monday's meeting marked the first of four school district conversations aimed to get the public involved in the budget process. The community can also submit their comments online, said Anchorage School District Superintendent Ed Graff.
Jane Russell, a meeting attendee and mother of a third-grader at Trailside Elementary School, as well as a child in private school, said the school district would likely have to cut staff positions to balance its budget, "which is a shame."
About 89 percent of the school district's budget pays for staff, Foster said during his budget presentation.
Russell said she supported paying taxes to ensure that the education budget gets funded. She also underscored the importance of participating in the budget discussion.
"It's easy to sit on the sidelines and complain about the results," she said.
Mark Foster, school district chief financial officer, said the magnitude of next school year's budget gap depended on state lawmakers and how they tackled a multi-billion dollar deficit and funded education.
"The outlook for state funding, quite frankly, is pretty uncertain," he said.
If lawmakers approved a $50 increase to per-pupil funding, as included in the omnibus education bill passed in 2014, the school district would face a $12 million shortfall. If lawmakers instead cut funding by 1.5 percent, that shortfall would increase to $20 million, Foster said.
Foster said school district administrators and the Anchorage School Board will discuss how to balance the budget in December. They must submit the budget to the Anchorage Assembly by March.