April 19, 2012 | Vol.42 No. 16

School budget would cut 1 teacher

The Haines Borough School District is planning to eliminate one full-time teaching position and use reserves to bridge a projected deficit in the coming school year, but further reductions may be necessary, school board members heard at their April 5 meeting.

The first version of the draft budget assumes no change in insurance costs and no increases during upcoming salary and benefit negotiations. It’s based on discontinuation of a federal timber receipts compensation program and no change by the Alaska Legislature in school formula funding.

It also projects an enrollment of 275 students, about a 10 percent drop from 307 in the current year. Such a drop would cost the borough $53,553 next year under the state’s “hold harmless” funding program, extra compensation that blunts the immediate cost of enrollment declines of 5 percent or greater.

Factored into the draft budget is a 1 percent cut in total school funding by the Haines Borough.

“We’re at the beginning of the budget cycle. There are still a lot of unknowns on our side and on the borough side,” said school board member Anne Marie Palmieri.

In the district’s general fund, revenues are down $65,000 and expenses are up $40,000. Eliminating a teaching position and borrowing $25,000 from reserves would recover about $125,000, district officials said.

The job to be cut would have been an “intervention” position, aimed at identifying and helping students who are struggling in different subjects and at different grade levels.

Unlike the Haines Borough that budgeted for a 20 percent increase in fuel costs and an unchanged cost for waste disposal, the school penciled in a 30 percent hike for garbage and no increased funds for heating fuel.

District financial officer Judy Erekson said the district has overbudgeted for fuel in recent years. “We’ve come in a little high the last couple years. We’ll wait until mid-summer to see how everything pans out (in terms of prices).”

The garbage increase, to $32,000 annually, owes to an $800 monthly charge for emptying dumpsters at the school, Erekson said. Board member Brian Clay said the district should pursue alternatives for waste disposal. “To pay $32,000 a year to get rid of something you don’t want seems pretty steep.”

Clay said he’d like to see a budget based on the district’s goals. Such a method would work to show if changes in the budget are in line with goals.

Superintendent Michael Byer said the draft spending document maintains emphasis on early literacy, math and vocational education with the strategic plan. “We were able to make an approximate $100,000 reduction in our expenditures by absorbing a teaching position.”

Byer called the loss of the teaching job “a major cut.”

Byer told the board not to expect federal timber receipts compensation that last year amounted to about $370,000. “I expect the whole program is going away, based on the situation (in Washington, D.C.).”

Byer characterized the projected enrollment drop as a worst-case scenario. “This is as low as we can conceive it.” The district typically underestimates enrollment, but the districtwide total has hovered near 305 for several years.

“I think we have a lot of kids moving. We know of several families who are leaving town,” said school secretary Tiana Taylor, who assists on enrollment projections. Four current eighth-graders won’t be attending high school here and several other classes are losing students, she said.

The number of departing students appears to be larger than in previous years, she said.

The board also delayed a decision to approve a new high school social studies textbook, pending review by board members. Students currently use a junior-high level book, said teacher Lily Boron.