Alaskans showed up to the Mat-Su Borough School District board meeting in Palmer Wednesday night to speak out against outsourcing roughly 120 custodian jobs, but board members unexpectedly tabled the vote because they’ve learned the district’s budget situation is more dire than previously thought.
The $11.2 million deficit they’ve been struggling to fill has now become a best case scenario.
“We spent time in Juneau, and we spent time yesterday at the assembly, and we still have a lot of unknowns with the budget,” said superintendent Dr. Monica Goyette during the meeting.
The five percent cut the Alaska Senate wants to make to education means a $10 million cut to Mat-Su schools, and the proposed Mat-Su Assembly budget doesn’t include an increase in funds for the school district this year, after the board was hoping for a six percent increase.
Their new worst case scenario, if things don’t go well for the district in Juneau or the Assembly budget, is a $20.7 million budget gap.
The board originally planned to cut 88 jobs, but that number would increase to 190 in the worst case scenario plan, in the next year alone.
“We’re not presenting these scenarios as scare tactics by any means. These are real scenarios that are out there that are being considered that are being debated and proposed,” said assistant superintendent Luke Fulp.
Goyette says the Mat-Su already has the leanest district in the state, financially. She told the board their best case scenario includes a student teacher ratio of 35 to one, and the worst, going up to 36 to one, would result in high school classes with more than 40 students.
When asked where jobs would be cut if they have to get rid of 190, she said they would have to start cutting programs for kids, something they’ve been trying to avoid.
While they try to adjust to the moving parts of the budget problem, they’ve postponed the decision regarding outsourcing custodial jobs until May 3, a decision that was not well received by several staff members who used vacation time to attend the meeting for the vote.
“As you drag this on, you’re toying with peoples lives,” Lisa Johansen told the board. She says she’s been a night custodian for the district since 2009.
“We have nobody in the school tonight to cover for me because I took the time to come to this meeting,” Johansen explained.
Goyette says the decision to table the agenda item wasn’t made in time to let people know before the public meeting.
The district says outsourcing both custodial and nutrition positions could save the district $4.3 million.
Fulp has previously told KTVA if they move forward with the idea, the contract will require the company to give preference to laid off school staff when hiring to replace their jobs.