The Wrangell School Board held a public hearing on its proposed budget last week, and the numbers for next school year do not look very different from this year’s.
But that will change if the Alaska Legislature decides to cut education funding to help offset the state’s budget deficit of about $3.5 billion.
The Wrangell school district’s draft budget for the 2016-2017 school year assumes state funding will remain the same as this year. That is about $3.3 million, which is more than half of the district’s budget.
Wrangell Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Mayer said some other school districts in the state have a 5 or 10 percent decrease built into their budgets to try to prepare for cuts. But Mayer said he did not want the budget to reflect a change in state funding because there is no indication of what lawmakers will do.
“I really, honestly, do believe we’ll sustain some kind of significant cut this year,” Mayer said. “But there’s no way to know what it’s going to look like, and it won’t be there until later.”
Mayer would not go into specifics about what could be on the chopping block if school funding is reduced.
“Eighty-seven percent of our budget is ascribed to salary and benefits. While there are positions that are associated with any type of reduction in funding, we don’t have any way of knowing that,” Mayer said. “And I don’t want to go out on a limb and say, ‘This is what that’s going to mean,’ when we’re going to have to look very carefully at the entire budget to see where reductions can be made.”
“It’s time to look at everything we’ve got,” said school board member Aleisha Mollen. “And what can we do more efficiently? Not necessarily what can we cut, but what can we do more efficiently? And where can we bring funds in, if possible?”
Wrangell’s draft budget shows a few cuts and changes to school services.
A high school teacher is retiring, and the district will not rehire for that positon. That teacher is the only foreign language teacher in the district, and other language classes are offered online.
Mayer wrote in an email, “We will be exploring other options regarding instructional delivery as we move into next year.”
The high school is switching its heating system from electric to oil, because oil is currently cheaper than electricity.
The district is also dropping a counseling position from the budget because it is being paid for by a grant. When the grant period ends, Mayer said the district will consider adding the counselor back into the budget.
Student transportation will cost more next year. The cost of the bus service will increase 26 percent, and the district is paying for a new bus to replace one that is close to aging out.
“If we can do anything to save teachers, or keep teachers in the classroom, I think we’re willing to do that,” said elementary school teacher Mikki Angerman. “We’ve got some ideas.”
Angerman said teachers could share custodial duties to cut down on hours for other staff, and she suggested volunteers from the community could help with school lunches. She also said bringing in a grant writer could help the district get more grant money.
One teacher questioned the need for the school lunch program.
Evergreen Elementary Principal Deidre Jenson suggested opening a charter school for home school students to raise revenue for the district.
Mayer said he will keep the board updated on any new budget information coming from the legislature.
The school board will meet with the Wrangell Borough Assembly next month to talk about the district’s budget.