Educators across Alaska were stunned when Gov. Mike Dunleavy released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 in mid-February. 

His proposal would slice $105 million from the Anchorage School District’s budget.

"It’s significant. You're looking at, realistically, anywhere from 1,000 to 1,800 positions, and those are people who are buying groceries in Anchorage today, they’re buying new cars, they’re buying houses, they’re paying rent," ASD Chief Financial Officer Jim Anderson said.

“This reduction is more than we’ve ever started with at the beginning of a legislative session," ASD Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop said. "It's going to take a lot of work. It's pretty significant."

Gov. Dunleavy says the way the 53 school districts spend their money is up to them.

"If they want to spend their money on more administration, that's their choice," Dunleavy said in an interview with KTVA’s political reporter Steve Quinn. "If they want to spend it on more teachers, that's their choice, but certainly, less money, and we’re talking about a $1.6 billion deficit, again, less money of that magnitude is going to impact programs."

Anchorage School Board President Starr Marsett says the school district is already doing less with less.

"[We have] part time nurses in our schools, we have part time counselors and some schools that don't have counselors.  We've already cut custodial services, we've already cut maintenance, we've cut IT, we have large classrooms," Marsett said.

Some of those services may no longer be available. Anderson says the district once looked at cutting staff positions, but now it’s considering cutting entire programs.

"Nothing’s safe," Marsett said. "Sports isn't safe, music isn't safe."

In addition to cuts, the governor also proposed shifting the responsibility for bond debt reimbursement. Anderson says the responsibility would shift from the state to municipalities, meaning taxpayers would have to cover an additional $41 million.

According to Anderson, if the bond debt is shifted, it would cost each property owner an average of $420 in additional taxes, about $117 per every $100,000 worth of property. This would be in addition to the $37.5 million taxpayers already pay.

This unexpected proposal by the governor comes at a time when school officials are also putting a bond proposal on the April ballot which would fund repairs for schools damaged by the Nov. 30 earthquake.

"That's just as concerning to me," Bishop said. "That that trust in our government process for bonding for schools, we could say roads or other things, is weakened."

As of four or five years ago, the state paid portions of the bonds in 70/30 or 60/40 splits. That has since changed and taxpayers now know they'll pay off the full bond. Paying for something that was promised by the state may not rub taxpayers the right way.

Now legislators will hear from their constituents and what they want to fight for. 

"Are there different ways to deliver education at the local level?" Dunleavy said. "I think those discussions need to happen as well."

Those discussions are happening in deep dialogue. The governor is aware his proposed budget will affect all Alaskans, but says it needs to happen so that the Alaska economy can run on its own.

The governor's budget proposal is just a starting point in the legislative process. The budget will undergo many amendments and changes before it is finalized. 

Learn more about school bonds in the videos below, where KTVA's Lauren Maxwell sits down with Chief Operating Officer for the Anchorage School District Tom Roth.

 
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