‘There’s Nothing Left to Cut’: Fairbanks Assembly Gives School District $800K Boost

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly approved a measure that allows the area school district to keep $800,000 that it would’ve been required to give back to the borough. Assembly members say the action was a small step toward helping the district cope with personnel and program cuts that district officials have proposed to deal with an $11 million state funding shortfall.

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Assemblywoman Diane Hutchison sponsored the measure, along with Presiding Officer Karl Kassel, to waive a provision in the borough code that requires the district to give back $800,000 at the end of each school year to go into a fund that helps pay for school maintenance.

Hutchison says it was a small but earnest gesture to help the district at a time when it’s struggling to deal with state funding cuts due to both plummeting oil revenues and falling enrollment.

“We felt this was certainly a time when the school district could use this extra 800,000,” Hutchison said.

The Assembly clearly didn’t need any encouragement before approving the measure with all eight members voting in favor. Assemblyman Lance Roberts was not present.

But several members of the public along with a few district employees, like North Pole Middle School teacher Vanessa Jackson, took the opportunity anyway to again testify about the urgent need to help the district at a time of severe fiscal contraction.

“There’s nothing left to cut at the school district without impacting the students in some negative way or the other,” Jackson said.

Laura Volmert, who has two middle-schoolers in the district, says although it’s a relatively small amount, the $800,000 would encourage district workers and parents before the Assembly begins work on the recommended budget that the district school board approved Wednesday.

“I feel like the borough Assembly has an opportunity right now to really show its support for education,” Volmert said. “I feel like this is the first opportunity that you have to show your support. There will be other opportunities down the line.”

The Assembly won’t finish work on the district’s recommended $274.9 million spending plan until mid-May, after the Legislature passes a state budget and the governor completes his review.

Also Thursday, the Assembly approved a measure that ratifies a new contract for about 50 unionized borough managers and supervisors.

The three-year contract with members of the Alaska State Employees Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees sets an annual cost of living increase starting next year that’ll range from 1 to 2 percent, and annual merit increases of 1.9 percent through 2018.

The borough estimates those provisions will cost between $23,900 and $140,300 next year.

The borough estimates the contract’s health plan provisions will cost between $309,500 and $1.2 million in 2016.