May 9, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 18

School board OKs $6.5 million

The Haines Borough school board on Tuesday approved its spending plan for the coming year, including $5.5 million in general fund spending plus $1 million for student activities, school lunch, transportation, Community Education and facilities and equipment.

Superintendent Michael Byer told the board the budget represents district priorities for early literacy, mathematics and vocational education, while accommodating a projected district enrollment drop to about 255 students.

The budget includes eliminating three aide positions, shifting 2.5 aide positions from the general fund to grant funding, and eliminating a full-time math-teaching job in middle school.

“We’ve run right down to the surface of the bone. We’re very lean and mean here,” Byer told board members at an April 30 budget workshop.

General fund spending is down $350,000 from a year ago. The budget carries a general fund balance of $464,000 and a fund balance of $330,599 in the district’s facilities and equipment budget.

The Haines Borough is planning to contribute $1.78 million to the budget, including $1.55 million for the district’s general fund.

Budget workshops started a month ago, initially showing a deficit of $435,000. Cutting aides, supplies and the full-time math position saved $250,000. Another $90,000 was saved by shifting aide positions to grants, Byer said.

The fiscal year 2014 budget also would see anticipated savings from retirement of experienced, higher-paid teachers and from other sources. “There are lots of little changes,” said district bookkeeper Judy Erekson.

The budget includes money for “step increases” due staff from current labor contracts, but does not anticipate additional spending for salaries that would result from a negotiated raise. Contract negotiations are under way.

The budget also retains $54,000 for a literacy coordinator, a part-time position currently held by Jeanne Kitayama, who is retiring. The district would employ 25 certified teachers at a cost of $2.14 million, about $32,000 less than last year’s total teacher payroll of $2.17 million.

Grant funds that are helping out this year are left over from federal No Child Left Behind money, bookkeeper Erekson said. The district also has received $60,000 for heating and safety improvements from a one-time appropriation of $21 million from the Alaska Legislature, said superintendent Byer.

At the April 30 budget workshop, member Sara Chapell asked if the district needed to cut the full-time math position, given the projected fund balance of $464,000. Byer, however, recommended that decision wait until contract negotiations are completed. At Tuesday’s meeting, Chapell characterized the spending plan as “balanced.” “I think we’re covering the important stuff.”

Member Anne Marie Palmieri, who previously questioned proposed cuts, was absent Tuesday.

The amount of surplus in the budget has been an issue for Haines Borough leaders, who were surprised last November when the board members appropriated $612,000 for equipment and improvements from the facilities and equipment fund, after seeking borough support for several capital improvement projects.

The school’s general fund balance of $464,000 compares to a maximum carryover of $546,000 allowed by state law.

Sizeable fund balances suggest the borough is paying into the school money for operations that could instead go toward needed capital projects, borough officials said. “We don’t want to fund their operating budget and have them not use that for operating and have extra funding, then ask us to fund these major maintenance projects,” borough Mayor Stephanie Scott said this week.

Scott said some districts don’t even keep a “facilities/equipment” budget. The borough may have to change how it gives its money to the district, she said.

“I don’t want to tell them how to spend their money, but they can’t complain and say their buildings are inadequate and we’re not doing our job… There’s not a limitless amount of money,” Scott said.

Scott on Tuesday gave school board members a breakdown of borough spending on schools for the coming year. It includes $110,000 from the borough toward the $250,000 cost of replacing air-handling units in the school art room. Noise in the room became an issue when the district transformed the former woodshop into an art classroom.

The school’s contribution to the art room project doesn’t appear in the district’s April 30 budget draft.