Thomas holds ground against increase in school formula fund


State Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, hammered on the need to limit spending at a Friday Chamber of Commerce meeting attended by local school officials seeking increases in the state’s foundation formula.

“I don’t know how many times I have to say ‘no,’” said Thomas, who co-chairs the powerful House Finance Committee, where a bill to increase the formula for general school funding is stalled.

Thomas has been the target of lobbying by local school advocates and officials for increases in the formula that would bring the district about $100,000 more per year for the next four years.

Thomas said schools should instead expect passage of a one-year plan by Republican Gov. Sean Parnell that would spend $10 million statewide to defray school energy costs and $20 million to help with busing.

For Haines, that would be equivalent to a one-time expenditure of $95,000, said superintendent Michael Byer.

Assuming today’s prices and an annual drop in statewide oil production of 6 percent, the state will face a deficit by 2014, Thomas said. “The only thing that can save us is the price of oil going up to $160 a barrel, and what does that do to you?”

Thomas said the legislature shouldn’t extend a formula increase into years when the state might have a deficit.

After the meeting, Byer said the state could make changes in the future, if it were suddenly cash-strapped.

Of the Parnell plan, Byer said he was “grateful for funding whichever way it comes” but that changes in the formula allowed the district to plan into future years. He said he wanted at least enough money to keep up with the cost of living.

Assuming a 1 percent reduction in borough funding requested by Haines Borough manager Mark Earnest, the district faces about a $275,000 shortfall, a gap that could be bridged by $500,000 the district holds in savings, Byer said.

Continued shortfalls would likely mean eliminating programs such as an early literacy effort and classes such as cooking and engineering, Byer said. “These are the classes that expand what our kids can do and really grab their interest,” he said.

The school board will discuss budget issues at a workshop immediately preceding its next meeting 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 3. The regular meeting starts at 7:30 p.m.

At last week’s school board meeting, member Nelle Jurgeleit-Greene said on a recent lobbying trip that, when it came to influencing Thomas for the formula change, “It was like we were talking to a wall.”

Member Sean Cone said Thomas’ position was “vastly disappointing” but not surprising, based on previous statements. “It’s not his money. It’s our money. We hire him and we pay him to apportion that money responsibly.”


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