The Wrangell School District hosted a workshop Monday on its budgeting process, giving the public a chance to give their input on the $363,000 budget gap. The school board also approved the second draft of the budget during its regular meeting.
Several people gathered in Wrangell’s Evergreen Elementary School to get a look at the district’s finances for the upcoming fiscal year. The Wrangell school board proposed a balanced budget with about $900 to spare. The district is able to fill the gap with money from its reserves, but the plan does come with some drawbacks.
“I’m concerned about losing the counselor position in the elementary school,” Jessica Rooney said.
Rooney has three students in the district and another entering kindergarten next school year.
Rooney and several others attended the meeting to express their concerns about losing the grant-funded position. The grant was intended to last three years, ending next year. But, the district was notified by the U.S. Department of Education last fall that the funds will be cut significantly.
“I understand it’s a grant, but it is a need that we have, but equally the middle school [has] a need for counseling and same with the high school. So I’d hate to see any of those positions go,” Rooney elaborated. “So what’s the solution to that?”
It’s unlikely the district will be able to afford the position. It plans to return to using Wrangell-medical provider Alaska Island Community Services’ counselors to fill the gap, with one full-time staff split between the middle and elementary schools.
Jasmine Clyburn has a son in second grade and is concerned about how much time will be spent in each location.
“What if there’s nobody here when he’s needing it, needing somebody to talk to? Are they going to be able call somebody here? It’s just nice to have somebody on hand when he’s having any kind of issue,” Clyburn said.
Parents and community members gathered at four stations set up at lunch tables to give their input. Topics included technology, career technical education, school climate and facilities and academic achievement.
The district will compile a list as it moves towards its April 17 deadline to finalize the budget. The Wrangell Borough Assembly will review its finances the following month.
Wrangell Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Mayer said between now and then, there are several unknowns in Alaska’s Legislature.
”We have all these other proposed cuts that come and go in the Legislature. For example, one of them is the Public Employees Retirement System. If they increase the amount we have to pay for our Public Employees Retirement System contribution, that would be an additional $20,000 for the district,” Mayer explained. “We won’t know exactly where we fall in terms of any cuts there may be.”
The district has been expecting a 5 percent cut to the base student allocation, amounting to about $240,000. The state doles out about $5,900 per student through the enrolment-based funding mechanism.
The district will also have to backfill about $31,000 towards retirement funding for teachers and staff. Among the line items, there are federal cuts coming down the line. Wrangell will lose about $16,000 in funding for internet and phone services.
Additional Spanish and gym classes are also planned for next year, costing almost $30,000. School aide salaries will also account for about another $26,000 in expenditure hikes. In the midst of all this doom and gloom, Mayer noted there is some good news.
“It looks like to us that we’re going to be able to get someone in the middle school office full time next year,” Mayer said.
The position has been part-time for a few years, and several parents have asked for it to return to full-time status.
The board also increased some non-teaching staff salaries. The move is intended to make the district competitive with businesses in town. Most positions were given a 1 percent bump, but some were given about 7 percent. The final budget draft will reflect the increase.
In other business, board member Rinda Howell’s resignation was accepted. Howell gave no reason for leaving the board in a short hand-written letter.