The Wrangell School Board met with the Wrangell Borough Assembly last week to discuss the school district’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year and the potential shortfall it is facing from a loss of state and federal funding.
Education cuts at the state and federal level could amount to over $1 million in cuts to Wrangell’s approximately $6 million school budget.
The big cut represented in the Wrangell Public School District’s budget draft is a $162,188 cut to foundation support. This includes “one-time monies” promised by the state for the next three years.
Superintendent Patrick Mayer said in an earlier interview he still does not know if the district will get that money from the state.
“We’re basing our budget right now on the assumption that the state is going to do what they said they’re going to do, which is to eliminate those one-time monies, which amount to roughly $82,000 for the Wrangell Public School District,” Mayer said.
The district will also see cuts to its special education funding due to a change in its special needs population.
To make up for that loss of revenue, the school is planning a $147,500 cut to its equipment line item, which cuts out a van, a new phone system and copy machines.
The rest of the school’s budget draft looks similar to this year’s budget.
Mayer told the borough assembly he is requesting the same amount of money from the borough as last year. The borough contributes about $1.5 million to the school district, but more than half of that comes from the federal government through the Secure Rural Schools program.
But there is no guarantee that Congress will restore Secure Rural Schools funding in fiscal year 2016. If it falls through, the borough will have to give the school district an extra $848,488 to make up for it.
Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch said Wrangell could absorb the cost for a few years.
“For the past four years, the Secure Rural Schools funding provided us with more money, each year, than this $848,488,” Jabusch said. “So we’ve been putting any excess into a fund within the city’s accounts for education. And so I think as of last June 30, there was about $3.9 million. If we don’t get any [SRS] money this year, the $848,488 will come out of that.”
Jabusch said it is enough money to cover a loss of Secure Rural Schools funding for about four years.
Superintendent Mayer said the district and the borough worked together to protect that money, and it gives them more time to transition into drastic budget cuts.
“I feel OK where we’re at right now, but we may have to make some difficult decisions in the future,” Mayer said.
Assembly Member Stephen Prysunka wondered whether the budget should start to reflect the possible loss of Secure Rural Schools funding.
School officials said further budget cuts would mean cutting teachers.
“Last year, we had five teachers retire. We did not replace all five teachers,” said Wrangell Public Schools Business Manager Pam Roope. “That is a cut.”
State and federal cuts are up in the air until the Alaska Legislature and Congress finalize their budgets.
The school board will have a public hearing on its proposed budget at its April 27 meeting, ahead of its May 1 budget deadline.