Mat-Su school district faces $9 million deficit

Matanuska Susitana Borough schools have an enrollment of close to 19,000 students and are expected to surpass that number by the start of the 2017 fall semester.

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Despite a funding increase from  the Borough for the next fiscal year, insurance and benefit increases means  the school district is still in the red.

It’s budget time in the Matanuska Susitna Borough, and after a series of public hearings which allow residents to speak up about Borough funding issues, the Borough Assembly is expected to approve a final version of the spending package this week.

Mat-Su School District assistant superintendent Luke Fulp requested the Borough double its annual 3% increase in education funding. School teachers and principals made similar requests at public hearings in Palmer and Wasilla, and on Monday the Borough Assembly approved a 6% increase.

“It was a fairly large ask by the school board, they felt it was necessitated by the continued growth in enrollment that we’ve experienced here in the Mat-Su Valley,” Fulp says.

That’s good news, but the Borough’s hike in education funding doesn’t make a dent in the $9 point 5 million  the school district needs to get back in the black. Fulp told the Assembly in April that the school district is going into the new fiscal year with a $6. 1 million deficit.

“During the month of April, we learned of a significant increase to our health insurance costs that we had not previously anticipated. It was a 25% increase that we received a notice on from our health insurance provider, the Public Employee Health Trust. And because of that, we had $3 million of unanticipated expenses added to our budget.”

He says employee salaries and benefits take up 85% of the school district’s budget. The additional insurance costs have pushed the school district further into the red.
Fulp says about $6 million of the shortfall will be covered with school district reserves. That leaves a $3.5 million hole in funding.

He says the school district is considering reductions in staff, increasing student – teacher ratios in middle and high schools, and reducing part time instructional coaches at the elementary level.

“So in all, it is a combination of about 30 positions that will be reduced from the preliminary budget to make up that $3.5 million. The cuts are across the board impacting all grade levels and all schools.”

Those measures are expected to get the school district through the 2016-2017 school year. This year, the Mat-Su school district gained 708 new students. An additional 353 students are expected next year.