'We're going to have a struggle:' ASD braces for Dunleavy budget
Anchorage school officials are taking Gov. Mike Dunleavy's proposed budget for fiscal year 2020, announced Wednesday morning, as a bitter blow.
"To me this is unrealistic," said Anchorage School Board President Starr Marsett. "A school district can't operate this way. It's pretty much dismantling education. You have to understand, if this is what we are looking at nothing is safe. Sports isn't safe, music isn't safe."
The proposed budget would cut 25 percent from Alaska's base student allocation, the state's annual funding to school districts based on how many children attend them, reducing it from $1.2 billion to $942 million. The budget also cuts more than $110 million from the Anchorage School District budget, which currently sits at $572 million.
On the state level, funding for the Department of Education and Early Development would fall from $1.66 billion to $1.34 billion.
"We need to take care of our students," said ASD Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop. "We either need to educate our youth or be afraid of them, because they are smart. They will use those smarts for good or evil. In the larger picture we talk about crime and opioid addiction, and reliance for other people to care. The way that you break that cycle is through education. The value is in the young people."
Not only does the proposed budget reduce funding, it now puts ASD and many other school districts across the state in some very tough places with huge choices to make.
"We've been looking at flat funding over the past several years," said Jim Anderson, the district's chief financial officer. "So we had deficits anywhere from 10 to 15 to 18 million dollars. We looked at (cutting) some small programs and individual positions."
Finding cuts for $152 million calls for more drastic measures.
"Now you're looking at large-scale change, really significant programs where you are eliminating a capability in many cases that currently exist," Anderson said.
Some 87 percent of ASD's current budget covers personnel, more than 60 percent of whom are teachers, nurses, librarians and counselors.
"They are our largest expense," Anderson said. "When you're looking at cutting 110 million dollars, you run out of programs. You now change what the education experience is. Realistically, you're looking at 1,000 to 1,800 positions being cut. Those are people buying groceries in Anchorage today. They are buying new cars, new homes and paying rent. This would not only affect the students in our schools, it would affect our community."
The Dunleavy budget would also eliminate state bond reimbursements, which would cost ASD $41.1 million.
"This is very concerning to me," Bishop said. "When it comes to bonds, our voters go to the booths with eyes wide open knowing they will pay 100 percent of those funds. (But for) bonds prior to the last four years, there was a 70/30 or 60/40 split. That trust in our government process of bonding for schools or roads is weakened."
Along with the cuts, the lost bond reimbursements would create a $150 million crater in the district's funding.
"No one has a crystal ball about Alaska's future," Bishop said. "We're going to have a struggle. It's going to be tough."
As the state Legislature takes up the Dunleavy proposal, ASD's leaders are urging Alaskans concerned about education across the state to contact their lawmakers.
"Voices need to be heard," Anderson said. "That's how you get the feedback back to Juneau."
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