School board to seek maximum support from borough
Facing declining enrollment and state foundation funding that hasn’t increased for several years, the Haines school board will be seeking the maximum allowable contribution from the Haines Borough for the coming year, an additional $242,000.
The district currently receives $1.55 million in borough funds for instruction and an additional $210,000 for community education, hot lunch and activities. By state law, the district can spend up to $1.79 million for instruction.
The additional money is being sought in part to fund a “coordinator” to encourage approximately 50 local homeschool students to participate in district programs, an effort that would restore some district funding.
The school board and borough assembly are scheduled to hold a joint meeting to discuss budget issues 6:30 p.m. March 4 at the school.
At a Tuesday workshop, school board members reviewed what chair Anne Marie Palmieri called a “conservatively realistic” $5.5 million draft budget shown as $572,000 in the red, based on a projection of 241 students, the closure of Mosquito Lake School and no increases in funding from the state or borough. The district started the year with 271 students.
The district is expecting $3.4 million in state funds in the coming year, including $2.5 million from the state’s per-student foundation funding.
The district also receives about $475,000 annually in grants.
An enrollment of 10 students at Mosquito Lake would add $190,000 in income to the budget, bookkeeper Judy Erekson said. Budget figures provided to board members Tuesday showed closing Mosquito Lake would save the district as much as $263,000, including about $110,000 in wages for a teacher, aide and custodian and $36,000 in electricity and fuel.
Superintendent Michael Byer said that as of this week “there was no clear indication” the district would get 10 students at Mosquito Lake. “So far we’ve sent out over 100 questionnaires (about the future of the school) and only 20 have come back.” Byer said the district’s “greatest hope” was to have seven students there, but five may be more realistic. Surveys returned to date haven’t been supportive of keeping the school open, Byer said.
Efforts by a volunteer committee to find ways of keeping the school open are continuing.
Palmieri told Byer Tuesday she’d like to see two draft budgets, including one with Mosquito Lake School open. She told the board she’d like a decision on Mosquito Lake to be made by a March 25 budget workshop. “That’s getting late enough in the year that we’re going to be hiring teachers.”
Tuesday’s draft budget outlined areas where the projected deficit might be reduced, including $150,000 in vocational and special education with the retirement of instructor Ed Hays and the departure of two intensive students. Other reductions included $50,000 in supplies and $42,763 in cuts to administration.
Byer’s retirement is expected to reduce the cost of that position.
Other options include reducing administration and using money for a special reading program to fund a teaching position, Byer told the board.
School board member Brian Clay suggested the district consider the prospect of not offering staff health insurance benefits, saying the district might fall under a 50-employee minimum federal mandate for providing insurance. “We can ask (employees) to look at it.”
Palmieri said she was opposed to the idea. “I feel like we have an obligation as an employer to offer insurance to our employees. That’s part of the benefits package.” The district spends $759,000 annually on health benefits for its 50 full-time employees (more than 30 hours weekly).
The district must renew its contract with teachers this year, and negotiations will be starting soon.
Palmieri said after the meeting that although Tuesday’s budget numbers were “very squishy,” they were valuable for “illustrating how much in expenditures we need to cut in order to have a sustainable budget.”
She said the district’s expenses have increased in recent years, while state and borough levels of funding have remained the same.
“Whether we have 100 students in the high school or 50, we still have to heat the building. Much of our costs are fixed,” she said.
Variables in the budget include enrollment, decisions by the Alaska Legislature on school funding and what number to set for a fund balance. The board previously supported a minimum fund balance of $350,000, but Palmieri said Tuesday she’d like to revisit that discussion.
Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has proposed an increase in the state’s foundation funding formula, but his proposed increase would up revenues from the state by only about $22,000, school officials said Tuesday.
Enrollment was projected at 253 students this year, when 271 students enrolled. “We do a good job of estimating who’s going to leave. You can’t estimate who’s going to come in,” Palmieri said.
The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 11 at the Haines School.