School districts cope with flat state funding as costs continue to rise

Image from the Anchorage School District

Education funding in Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed budget remains relatively flat for the upcoming fiscal year.

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And even though big cuts to education are not yet proposed, districts are finding ways to cope with funding that doesn’t necessarily keep up with the natural year-to-year rises in costs.

“We feel fortunate moving into this year that it isn’t any worse,”┬áDr. Deena Paramo, superintendent of the Anchorage School District, said.

If the Governor’s proposed education budget of more than $1.27 billion in unrestricted and designated general funds makes it through the Alaska Legislature, ASD would receive about $330 million.

And Paramo said the district is anticipating more of the same for the next few years.

“We’re looking at creating budgets that are scalable, so that we understand exactly where every dollar goes,” Paramo said.

While the governor has not called for education cuts next year, the near-stagnant level of funding does not keep up with districts’ annual cost increases — including the cost of living, salaries and the replacement of books and instructional material.

Jim Anderson, ASD’s chief financial officer, said that will create a deficit for the district.

“Right now we predict that shortfall, if it were to operate in accordance with the governor’s proposed budget, would be somewhere between $13-15 million,” Anderson said. “And that would be some shortfall in the transportation arena for our buses, and that would be roughly $1.5+ million and the remainder would be out of general fund.”

Anderson said that shortfall comes as the district grapples with a nearly $11 million deficit produced last summer, when bond debt reimbursement funding was slashed from the state budget at the 11th hour.

“We have already paid down $4 million of that shortfall, and we’re working with the school board for authorization to look internally to be able to fund the rest through the remainder of this year,” Anderson said.

The remaining funds from this year are expected to come out of ASD’s emergency savings account.

Despite looming budget issue for both the state and district, Superintendent Paramo remains optimistic.

“When moms and dads come home and take a hit at work or some kind of reduction or furlough, they don’t decide to be worse parents because they’re making less money, that’s ridiculous,” Paramo said. “We are not gonna be less of a school district because of this crisis; we are gonna push through the crisis and continue to focus on kids.”

The Anchorage School Board has listed five priorities for the legislative session: the Base Student Allocation Formula, Bond Debt Reimbursement, student transportation, the importance of maintaining pre-kindergarten programs, adequate funding — and discussing exactly what “adequate” means.