“The Copper River School District, faced with a long-anticipated crisis in its budget, is being forced to take a long, hard look at where the district’s money is spent.”
So begins an article in the Copper River Country Journal from 1991 titled “School District Grapples with Budget Cuts.” It was a tumultuous time in the CRSD. There may be some reading this article that experienced it first-hand, either as a Board Member, employee, student or parent.
Now, twenty-five years later, the “long-anticipated” budget issues have become long-lived budget issues. It has been an up and down ride since 1991. The District anticipated having 580 students for the 1991-1992 school year. Since then, we’ve been as high as 829 students in 1997, and as low as 418 for the current year. In 1991 we had eight schools operating in the CRSD, today we have four. The dedicated Board Members of 1991 who took that “long hard look” have been replaced by other committed volunteers on the Board who are doing their own grappling with budget cuts.
With the very generous help of Linda Weld, I have been looking back in Copper Valley history for some nuggets of wisdom and perspective. (A big ‘thank you’ to the Welds)
The situation for the CRSD looked bleak in 1991. At least it did then. For those of us looking back now, it seems small compared to today’s challenges. To those who were trying to balance the budget in 1991, the future was very uncertain. Almost 80 people showed up at one Board meeting that Spring, with over 40 making public comment (not all about the budget). A couple of amendments were considered, but failed to pass. The recommended budget, including cuts and adjustments, was finally adopted, though I’m sure no one was particularly enthused.
The Board Members, parents, community members and staff wanted, really wanted, a great education for their children. They did not want to give up what they considered to be essential elements of their schools. In 1991, the Board cut a teacher from Gakona, Kenny Lake, and Glennallen High School. There were other reductions as well, including secretary hours and a Principal/Teacher position.
But as I flip through old Board packets and news articles, I can’t help but think to myself, “If only they could have seen around the corner.” Enrollment increased for the next eight years, and with it, revenue. There were opportunities they could not see yet. Just around the bend, there were new buildings, new technology, and incredible teachers that would arrive in the CRSD. The seemingly unsolvable squabbles over budget cuts became debates over new construction and whether baseball should be added to the list of school sponsored activities.
Creating a good CRSD budget in 1991 wasn’t easy and it won’t be easy in 2016. As we, and the rest of Alaska, face today’s financial challenges, we can look back for reminders that the path we travel isn’t straight, there are curves. We aren’t the first to turn into an unexpected stretch of uncertainty or to climb a hill of frustration and worry. We won’t be the last. There are more corners to turn, some short and sharp, others long and easy. But, there is a trail. Apparently, others have traveled this direction before.
By the way, part of the pressure on the budget in 1991 was a 240% increase in the cost of heating fuel. It went from .50¢ to $1.22 a gallon.
Thanks for all those traveling with us this year. Also, a special thanks to those in our community who have traveled this path before. Your input, wisdom and encouragement keep us going in the right direction.