Haines Borough school board president Carol Kelly this week painted an uncertain picture of future school funding, pointing to resistance from the Alaska Legislature to funding increases and possible loss of federal funds received in lieu of timber receipts.
Kelly said there are two bills in the legislature to increase the base student allocation, but said she wasn’t "terribly" optimistic. "They’re not satisfied with the level of education we’re providing. They’re concerned about our dropout rate. They’re really dragging their feet about funding."
The timber receipts money – provided for roads and schools to communities straddling national forests in Alaska and the West Coast – may not be renewed by the U.S. Congress, she said. The funds pumped about $368,000 into the current school budget (part of a $1.9 million contribution from the borough) and have totaled $3.2 million to the borough since starting in 2004.
The funding comes in smaller amounts each year, intended to wean municipalities off federal support. Legislation authorizing it expires after the 2011-12 school year. "If it goes away, I’m not sure what the assembly intends to do," Kelly said.
Referencing a request to open the gym on Sundays for adult recreation, Kelly said the board’s decision on that request was "not just a matter of coming up with extra money (this year)."
"I was here in 2003. I’m not going through that again," Kelly said, referring to turmoil in the district created when several teachers were laid off. "I’m going to be conservative until I’m sure about funding."
Superintendent Michael Byer said a March 10 joint meeting between the board and the Haines Borough Assembly will address borough funding questions. He told the board that some other districts in the state are considering increasing fees or reducing programs due to budget cuts or reduced contributions from municipalities.
Unlike some larger school districts, Haines already is lean, with some departments led by a single employee, Byer said. "We don’t have the fat to cut. If we have to cut, we’re almost immediately going into muscle."
He said loss of the timber money would "dramatically" affect the district. The board passed a resolution supporting continued funding of the federal program.
Resident Joe Parnell reiterated a December request to open the gym for adult recreation Sunday.
The district added gym hours on Wednesdays, but Parnell said Sunday is one day adults have off to exercise. He said when the school was being rebuilt, elected officials stressed that the school would be open for public use.
He said it was "heartbreaking" that the gym is not open on Sunday and is not being used.
"None of us have an objection, other than we have to find a way to do it," Kelly said. "The fundamental issue is cost. There has to be a way to resolve that for us to move forward." She suggested Parnell talk to the borough assembly about use of the former elementary gym.
On the recommendation of board member Anne Marie Palmieri, Parnell’s request will be on the agenda at the March school board meeting. "I don’t think there was a resolution to the question," Palmieri said.