Anchorage School Board approves funding for school officers program, splitting cost with municipality

Starting in fiscal year 2023, the Anchorage School District will pay for 75% of its School Resource Officer program, a shift of more than $2 million dollars.
Published: Feb. 23, 2022 at 8:26 PM AKST|Updated: Feb. 24, 2022 at 4:49 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage School Board said that the Anchorage School District will be paying for part of its School Resource Officer program for the first time in several years. The board announced it Tuesday night when it passed the school district’s fiscal year 2023 preliminary budget.

The school district will start to share that cost with the municipality for keeping uniformed officers in schools. The Anchorage School District will cover 75%, or $2.3 million, of the cost of the program when school is in session, and the municipality will cover the remaining 25% the rest of the year.

In the program’s 20-year history, it has had varying levels of cost-sharing between the municipality and school district. Since 2015, the municipality has fully funded the program. From 2011-2014 the district supported between $1.2 million and $2.8 million of the cost of the program, and in 2010, $400,000.

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, who proposed the change to shift 75% of the financial responsibility to the district as part of his proposed municipal budget, attended the school board meeting and said he wanted to commend the school district leadership for including the School Resource Officer funding in the 2023 budget.

When passing the city’s budget in November, the Anchorage Assembly opted to restore full city funding for the program, and school officers were funded by the municipality through the rest of this school year. Bronson vetoed several elements of the city budget, which would have returned this year’s funding to a 25-75 split, but the assembly overrode those vetoes.

“The Municipality of Anchorage remains committed to the safety and security of our students, teachers and Anchorage School District staff through this program,” Bronson said at Tuesday’s board meeting. ”... Our children deserve a safe and secure learning environment. Through the funding of this program, the municipality and the school district demonstrate our collaboration and commitment to our students’ safety and security.”

However, some school board members had mixed feelings about the changes. Before the proposed budget passed, board member Pat Higgins made a motion to remove the $2.3 million for School Resource Officer funding and place that money in unrestricted reserves.

“My concern is this type of change is not a one year, this is an ongoing situation,” he later said.

Higgins’ motion did not receive a second, so the budget was passed with the program funding included.

Board member Andy Holleman added that past administrations have chosen to cut back funding from the police department and the school district stepped in with funding so the program could be maintained.

“The feeling is the police budget should reflect the police work and the ASD budget should reflect instruction or running the school district,” Holleman said.

Superintendent Deena Bishop countered she doesn’t “believe” the district receives either state funds or city funds “strictly to only instruct students.”

“We provide a program that ensures safety and the wellbeing of not only our students but our staff, who have been growingly concerned, as you shared, about instances that do cause harm for mental health,” Bishop said.

“It is highly concerning to me, highly concerning, that the movement or even the thought of causing any kind of anxiety just because of who wants to pay for it — it’s causing too much anxiety,” she added later.

Back in November, Larry Baker with the Bronson administration reported the city’s tax cap formula, combined with a 30,000-person drop in the city’s estimated population, would mean the municipality would be unable to collect $7.5 million less in property taxes than in 2021.

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that Larry Baker with Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration estimated in November that the municipality would be able to collect $7.5 million less in property taxes than in 2021.

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