Wrangell school officials were caught off guard recently when the Alaska Senate Finance Committee proposed an additional cut to education funding.
The budget amendment would cut $47.5 million from public schools statewide. That’s on top of the $32 million cut to one-time education funds proposed by Gov. Bill Walker and upheld by the House of Representatives.
Wrangell Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Mayer said the newly proposed cuts to Alaska’s Base Student Allocation (BSA) came as a surprise.
“There had been no discussion of cutting into the BSA, or what we receive on that per student basis. And in the very final hours of Senate Finance, they passed through a 4.1 percent reduction in monies that would come to us through the BSA, an equivalent of about $140,000 for the Wrangell Public Schools,” Mayer said. “That would be reflected in a total composite loss to our district, if this is upheld, of approximately $227,000 for next year.”
The Alaska Senate approved this version of the operating budget. The House did not approve it, so the budget is still in a joint committee while legislators work out an agreement. After that, the budget has to be approved by Gov. Walker.
Meanwhile, the Wrangell school district is trying to craft its own budget by May 1. The district’s recent budget draft included the $87,000 cut proposed earlier by the governor and the House. That money came out of the equipment line item, which cut a new phone system, a van and copy machines.
Mayer said the additional funding cut was proposed after the public comment period closed, and it’s making it harder to figure out Wrangell’s budget.
“On the local level, this is really going to have a big impact in terms of cuts,” Mayer said. “And I would just say that the processes that are used from this point forward in the legislature, I’m hoping that they’ll be very transparent and advertised so that there’s an allowance for public comment.”
Mayer acknowledged the difficult decisions faced by the Alaska Legislature, but he said education should be prioritized because it affects everyone.
The Alaska Legislature had promised to forward-fund education through 2017, but the cut proposed by Republican Senators Pete Kelly and Mike Dunleavy does not uphold that promise.
Dunleavy heads the Senate Education Committee. In an email to Superintendent Mayer, Dunleavy said, “The proposal does not change the Base Student Allocation, nor the Foundation Formula.”
He continued, “Alaska’s revenue shortfall is unprecedented in its magnitude and every cut we have to make will certainly have an impact. These are very difficult decisions for very difficult times.”
The Alaska Legislature is in session until April 19.