Von Imhof to Anchorage School Board: Dunleavy ‘budget bomb’ unlikely, but expect cuts

Sen. Natasha Von Imhof, R-Anchorage, questions a presenter during a Senate Finance meeting, Jan. 16, 2019. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Anchorage Republican Senator Natasha von Imhof told the Anchorage School Board Monday night that districts should expect less funding next year, but not at the level proposed by Governor Mike Dunleavy.

The governor has proposed a cut of about $300 million to education funding across the state. Anchorage would see a cut of around $110 million. Von Imhof, a former school board member and now a member of the Senate Finance Committee, described the cuts as a “budget bomb” that she doesn’t believe any lawmakers endorse. She assured the board that while the proposed cuts are steep, she doesn’t believe they’ll be final.

“Please keep in mind, and I stress this, this is an opening proposal,” von Imhof said. “There are 60 legislators that want to get our grubby hands on it, and we’re gonna make lots of changes.”

She says the state has several options, including adopting the governor’s budget or adding revenue through taxes. Von Imhof says she and most other lawmakers want a more balanced approach, with a smaller PFD, that would leave more money for state services.

Even though she doesn’t expect the final cuts to be as drastic, von Imhof told the board that there will likely still be cuts, and the Senate is using data to go through how effectively the state’s money is being spent on state services.

“We’re looking for the best bang for our buck,” von Imhof said. “So here, when it comes to education, how is money investing in education translating to student academic achievement, graduation rates and, ultimately, successful adults.”

Von Imhof criticized the board for several decisions they made that have led to higher costs and class sizes, such as adopting the middle school model and increasing teacher salaries without adding new teachers. She also told them that she had helped carry a bill through the Legislature that made it easier to combine schools, but that the district had only consolidated two schools.

School Board chair Starr Marsett thanked von Imhof for her presentation and says that while von Imhof’s comments were insightful, the governor’s budget is currently the only budget the district has, so she hopes the legislature gets their budget together promptly.

“If we have to go by Dunleavy’s budget, because we have nothing but that when we have to hand out pink slips, that could be 1,200 pink slips,” Marsett said. “And when we talk about retention of teachers, I guarantee you, most of those teachers won’t come back, so that’s my biggest fear right now.”

Von Imhof says she shares that fear with Marsett. The current budget for the Anchorage School District was approved by the board two weeks ago, adding more than $80 million to address many issues von Imhof brought up. It’s now in the hands of the Anchorage Assembly.