Last week, the Alaska Legislature passed a budget that does not cut funding for education. That’s good news for the Haines Borough School District. Avoiding the additional financial blow allowed the school board to add a couple support staff positions back into the budget for next year.
The district was bracing for an about $167,000 cut to state funding. That’s on top of financial uncertainty the Haines School is already facing.
At the beginning of the year, Superintendent Tony Habra said the district could see an about half-million dollar deficit in the coming fiscal year.
The loss is based on reduced student enrollment that results in less state funding. That number has been whittled down over the last few months.
The district has downsized by three staff positions to save money.
The administration is expecting to end the FY17 fiscal year with about $436,000 in savings. They think they’ll have to use close to $200,000 of that in the coming year.
Earlier this month, Habra presented a stripped-down budget in anticipation of state cuts. He left out two special education paraprofessionals. And, he excluded $15,000 for technology.
But lawmakers did not reduce education funding. So, at a school board meeting this week, Habra asked to add money for the para positions and technology back into the budget.
The board voted to add $65,000 back into the special education budget. That would allow the district to hire for the paras, depending on the school’s needs.
But, they were more cautious about technology spending. The $15,000 would pay for replacement iPads. Here’s Habra.
“That amount is based on the idea that we’re refreshing a certain number of computers for certain grade levels and certain areas,” said Habra. “If you push back something for $15,000, unless you intend to never refresh it, that just gets added to another year and becomes larger.”
Board president Anne Marie Palmieri said that isn’t the most important thing for the district to spend money on right now.
“We just increased the budget by $65,000 to pay for people,” said Palmieri. “At this point I feel like for me people are more of a priority then refreshing the iPads.”
And other board members said the school should still be frugal about spending. Sarah Swinton and Sara Chapell refer to the amount of money the district was worried about losing from the state.
“I don’t want to start throwing a whole bunch of money out the door just because we might have $167,000, we should just spend it right now, I don’t agree with that,” said Swinton.”
“Plus we don’t have the $167,000, we’re just not losing an additional – It’s not like there’s extra $167,000,” said Chapell.
The board declined to add the $15,000 back into the budget. They also turned down Habra’s request to ask the borough for more money. He wanted to request an extra $50,000 for food service and activities. But Palmieri said it’s not clear enough what they’d be asking for.
“I don’t feel comfortable asking the borough for additional money with the information that we have here,” said Pamieri. “Because I don’t think that this information accurately reflects what was spent. And I want to make a more accurate case to demonstrate need before going to them.”
The board voted unanimously to approve the FY18 budget with about a $200,000 deficit. The shortfall will draw the savings account down to about $243,000.