It is no news to most anyone who has read the Anchorage Daily News or watched the evening news that Alaska is in a period of tremendous financial uncertainty. Crafting a FY16 CRSD budget is very challenging.
In December, Governor Walker proposed eliminating so called “one-time” money that was approved last year. According to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Childhood (EED), that would reduce CRSD revenue by approximately $189,000. We will have a further reduction in revenue due to our drop in enrollment. The state spread out the impact of having fewer students by reducing revenue gradually over four years. This will reduce our revenue by approximately another $171,000.
Late last Thursday afternoon, the Senate Finance Committee cut the Base Student Allocation for education by another $47.5 million. That equates to an approximately $200 cut to the existing BSA. This would reduce our revenue by approximately another $195,000. The full Senate approved this cut by a large margin. The Senate and House budgets will now go to a conference committee to negotiate a compromise budget.
In addition to decreases in revenue, we must account for increased costs. Employee insurance rates increase by 6%, which will cost an extra $60,000 in FY16. Negotiated salary and benefit increases along with increases for fees levied by other state agencies further increases the budget.
Those are some of the numbers. Now let’s talk process.
The FY16 CRSD budget must be submitted to EED by July 15th. In order to create a budget, we have to know our revenue. We could guess, but our practice has been to wait until the Legislature ends their session so we know what has been approved for funding. This year, the Legislative Session is due to end at midnight on April 19th.
But wait. That is when the 90-day session is scheduled to end. Both legislators and the press have predicted that the session will not end in 90 days, meaning it is very possible it won’t end on April 19th. Obviously, this makes creating a budget very difficult.
Our current plan is to have the 1st reading of the FY16 budget at the May board meeting. There will be a budget work session prior to the meeting to review our recommendations with the board. As with any board meeting, public comments are invited.
In keeping with past practice, I will travel to each school site and present our budget recommendations and get input before the May board meeting. This gives school communities an opportunity to hear budget information and recommendations in time to offer suggestions and comments at the May board meeting. If the session ends on April 19th, those meetings will be held beginning the week of April 27th. Everyone is invited to attend.
Given our current circumstances, including previous cuts that have been made, any reduction in revenue will be particularly frustrating for the Copper River School District. We are and will continue to communicate with our elected officials. Several education related associations are also busy working with legislative offices to minimize and navigate the impact of the budget crisis.
Through it all, I want our students to see us confront these challenges well. They too will face times when financial resources are scarce. Hopefully, they will also enjoy times of plenty. Our response to the current budget crisis should serve as an example to them. Rather than hear us say “all is lost”, I hope they observe courage, determination, and character as we work through the budget process. They need to learn how, in tough times, we can agree and disagree, yet maintain the character we expect of them in the lunchroom, on the playground, while competing in sports, and in the classroom.
Please take the time to contact our elected officials and share your opinions regarding decisions that will impact our community and schools. Emilie and Kathy down at the LIO can give you the latest news from Juneau and necessary contact information.
I have been very appreciative of those who have taken the time to call, stop by or email their ideas, concerns and yes, even condolences regarding our predicament. It is especially helpful when folks acknowledge that no cut will be easy, even if they disagree with our eventual recommendations. We welcome your ideas, suggestions, comments and questions.