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By Dan Rudy 

Schools, city hold joint session to discuss fiscal year '16 budget

 


School Board members met with the Wrangell City and Borough Assembly, city staff and school district officials at a joint work session late Tuesday afternoon.

Of particular importance, they discussed a draft budget for the 2016 fiscal year. Ahead of anticipated declines in Foundation Support by $162,188, Wrangell School District staff is looking at making more than $156,144 in cuts to the operating costs.

This decline in revenue includes one-time and special education funding provided by the state. One-time funding was promised by the state for the next three years, but with the loss of oil revenues payments cannot be counted upon.

Another cause for concern is the federal Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program, funding for which lapsed in September. Adjustments to next year’s school budget have not been made to the current draft. The timber receipts section of SRS funding amounts to $848,488; as a contrast, the Borough’s contribution is $667,799.

“To leave that money in there right now would be a good idea,” Board chair Susan Eagle said of the budget. If the SRS funding is not reinstated, she reasoned adjustments will have to be made in either case.

“In the past it has come through,” said Wrangell’s school superintendent, Patrick Mayer.

“I would rather see us prepared than unprepared,” Assembly member Stephen Prysunka suggested.

The school’s expected expenditures in the revised budget for FY16 come to $5.98 million, down from a previous $6.13 million. A substantial cut of $147,500 was made to the equipment line item, cutting out funds for a new van and phone system.

Declines to heating oil and other indirect costs were also expressed in the draft, and a $17,595 item for specialist salaries was reallocated to salaries for special education aides. With its operating capital of $585,000, the difference between expected revenues and expenses will leave the school $1,326 in the black by the fiscal year’s end.

In the discussion, Assembly members wondered whether it might be possible to consolidate school facilities and the district’s organization in the future, pointing out the current facilities were built to accommodate about twice the number of students as are currently enrolled.

School officials responded some such cuts have already been made to staff, such as vacancies left unfilled and the middle school and high school principal positions being combined.

At the moment, Wrangell Public Schools employs 60 staffers, including 23 teachers, three administrators and 34 classified positions. It currently has 272 students enrolled and expects the same number next school year.

In the end, the School Board said it should know better what direction the state will take after it adjourns April 20. Until then, legislators are still apt to negotiate and readjust funding items as they determine a budget.

“It’s hard to make a budget when you have no idea what you’re going to have,” Board member Rinda Howell commented.

“We’re in the same boat,” Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch responded.

A final budget draft will be provided to the Assembly for review ahead of its May deadline, once contributions from Juneau for next year are determined.

“Everything is coming under scrutiny,” Mayer explained, with every state department in Alaska having the same

discussions.

At the joint session, Mayer and Board members also updated the Assembly on facilities needs, academic developments and its new memorandum of understanding with University of Alaska Southeast for hosting its tech prep coordinator and expanding that program.

 

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