As proposed Dunleavy cuts loom, Anchorage School Board passes larger budget

Late Tuesday night, the Anchorage School Board voted to approve a revised budget for the district’s next fiscal year. But even with proposed state budget cuts, board members added several amendments that increased their request.

Prior to the amendments presented, the preliminary budget was about $804 million — an increase of just over 2 percent from the previous budget. It was approved by the district before Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed massive cuts to public education. District officials say ASD would face a cut of more than $110 million under the governor’s plan.

“If it is put into effect, [it] would change the face of the district so dramatically, that we’re sort of ignoring that it’s a possibility,” said board member Andy Holleman. “And I think that’s reasonable, and I don’t think the legislature will pass that budget. I think it will be something better.”

Board members Dave Donley and Mark Foster presented the bulk of the amendments.

Donley, who also serves as the governor’s deputy commissioner of the Department of Administration, offered amendments to reduce spending. He proposed a reduction of $3,000 to an expense budget for the School Board, which passed.

Donley’s next three amendments all failed. They would’ve eliminated three assistant principals from the district, lowered administrative costs and withdrawn the board from the Alaska Association of School Boards — at an estimated savings of $562,000.

Public comment primarily focused on denouncing Donley’s second amendment, which would have cut three assistant principals from the district, saving about $390,000.

“It’s nothing personal. These people are doing a great job. I’m not questioning that at all,” Donley said. “I’m just looking at the reality that I think we’re too deep into our fund balance here with this particular budget.”

The board struck down that proposed amendment.

By comparison, Foster recommended several increases to the budget — He proposed an amendment to invest in a mental health specialist for the district and an amendment to hire a consultant to help address rising medical care costs. Combined they would’ve added $350,000 to the budget. The latter amendment, totaling $100,000, passed.

Foster then proposed making two legislative budget requests. One, for $68 million, would be used to reduce class sizes, while the other, costing $13 million, would fund a new half-day pre-kindergarten program.

Board member Holleman supported both amendments, stating a clearer request shows lawmakers that the district is aware of areas that could be improved.

“One, if the budget request is granted, then we’ve got something very specific to apply it to,” Holleman said. “Two, if it’s not granted, we have a really specific talking point with the public and with the Legislature about why we’re struggling with some of the things that we struggle with.”

Board member Deena Mitchell agreed, adding that the requests also help make the case for the board to advocate for future students.

“We have the ingredients to be a state that people flock to, and it’s up to us to stay on the trajectory of an improving economy,” Mitchell said. “And I believe a big part of that is to reverse our educational cuts and begin making net investments in our students.”

Both amendments passed.

A final amendment from Holleman proposed adding $200,000 to the budget to help with adjusting the district to a five-period middle school model from the current seven-period day. It passed.

With the amendments, the budget totaled $885,858,600. Donley expressed concern with increasing the budget by more than $80 million and voted against it, along with board member Elisa Snelling.

The other members voted for, and it passed. The budget is set to be submitted to the Anchorage Assembly no later than March 4.