Anchorage School District finds itself in a unique position trying to fill possible budget shortfall

Published: Mar. 12, 2019 at 3:35 PM AKDT
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How school districts will be able to function, and thrive, with the governor's proposed budget cuts is being debated by school boards across the state.

For K-12 education, in Anchorage, the proposed budget is about a 20 percent overall reduction. It's even more complex since state bond debt reimbursement -- which covers school construction and fixes -- would be eliminated. That's a cost that would be sent to the city of Anchorage, and its taxpayers, at $41.1 million according to ASD.

On average, according to ASD, that's about $420 in additional taxes to a homeowner in the city.

Some have suggested that the city of Anchorage could contribute more, but there's a snag created at the federal level that keeps a state's wealthiest school districts from being disproportionately better-funded than the poorest school districts.

"Basically the idea is that no matter what zip code, and ours is one zip code, but in other places, no matter what zip code a child is born, that should not be the determinant of their education outcomes," Dr. Deena Bishop, the superintendent of the Anchorage School District, said.

Anchorage already funds to the max--a little more than $200 million. The required amount is just over $100 million.

Funding to the maximum is unusual, and puts ASD in a very different situation than other school districts in the state.

"We (the city of Anchorage) provide the max allowable in the state formula," Bishop said, "so that if the state provides additional money that allowable can increase, but if the state provides less money the allowable contribution decreases, they're actually tied together," Bishop said.

Basically it means that reducing the Base Student Allocation, BSA, would also reduce the maximum amount that communities could voluntarily contribute to schools by the same percentage as the reduction to the BSA.

"The federal government has regulations that require equity among the schools," Jim Anderson the CFO of ASD said. "So basically if you are in an area with a lot of money, you can't provide more education opportunities to those students than an area where there's less economic equity."

Bishop says Anchorage could help with some transportation or food services costs, but not much more than that.

Almost 88 percent of ASD's budget pays for salaries and benefits. The rest is spent on buildings, supplies and insurance, among other things.

Bishop says the proposed cuts, and trying to fill the gaps, isn't surmountable under the governor's plan.

ASD says it receives 58 percent of its budget from the state, 37 percent from local taxes, 3 percent from federal money and 2 percent from other revenue.

In the past, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said the state budget must be reduced to ensure the state's success.

A statement from the governor's office says local governments are going to have to make tough choices and share in the burden of austerity.

"We can simply no longer afford to spend what we don't have," the statement reads in part. "These reforms and changes to state spending will be a shared responsibility, one that will require localities and municipalities to also make difficult decisions."

Bishop says that over the past several years, the district has had to spend more and more money on support services for students.

"If we want to have a healthy community, as we grow as Anchorage, we're going to need to impact our young children who need the services and need those interventions to support their learning," Bishop said.

This story has been updated to include a statement from the governor's office.