Petersburg school administrators are waiting for word on state and federal funding levels but say there should not be any big staff cuts or program reductions for next school year. Petersburg’s school board heard an update on the district’s budget plans during the board’s regular monthly meeting Tuesday.

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Superintendent Rob Thomason says the district has been taking a slow approach to drafting a budget. Local officials are waiting to see the level of funding from the state, as the legislature drafts an operating budget and considers several bills to increase education money. Thomason said the district was planning on a “status quo” budget for the upcoming year. “We are working very hard to not lay off any staff, to keep our continuing programs going to maintain our outstanding class size and all the music and fine arts, voc ed, swimming programs we have going as well as our advanced classes and our VHS,” he said. “So as a small district we have significant offerings and its becoming more and more of a challenge.”

Petersburg is bucking the trend as school districts around Alaska are facing budget cuts, staff reductions and elimination of programs this year. Board president Jean Ellis talked about staffing levels with Thomason.

“Well and we haven’t had to lay anyone off but we are not necessarily replacing some people that have retired,” Ellis said. “Yeah we’re using attrition, as people leave and we know their dates, and people have been very nice and kind about letting us know their plans and we’ve been able to look ahead and anytime you can get ahead you can say it looks like this now and it will look like that then and we’ve been fairly able to be accurate on that,” Thomason replied.

Administrators are hopeful next year will see an end to the trend of declining enrollment in the district and think the size of the incoming kindergarten class is promising. Enrollment numbers have an impact on state funding paid to the district. The legislative session ends April 17 and Thomason said he hopes present a draft budget around that time. School officials are also hopeful for a continuation of the Secure Rural Schools program that pays federal funding to districts near national forest land like Petersburg.

In other business, the board approved a contract with Tommy Thompson of Juneau as the new math teacher for the high school. He’ll fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Bev Siercks at the end of this year.

The board also voted 5-0 to approve up to 50 thousand dollars worth of design work by the Juneau engineering firm Jensen Yorba Lott. That company will draw up plans for replacing the walls and single pane windows at Rae C. Stedman Elementary School. The $1.2 million project will improve insulation and cut down on heating costs in the building. Petersburg has submitted a request for funding the work to the state. School projects are ranked by the state department of Education, and architectural plans improve a project’s chances of ranking high and receiving funding.

KFSK file photo

Board president Ellis explained that local funding would have to cover 30 percent of the construction costs and the state would pay for the rest. “There’s two ways to have them fund it,” Ellis said. “One is if the legislature appropriates the 70 percent then the city still pays the 30 percent. If it does not come up high enough on the capital projects list, maintenance list for the state to be funded by the legislature. Then the other possibility is we can bond for it as a city. And if we bond for it as a city, the state still pays the 70 percent. They pay exactly the same amount no matter which way we do it, but the bonding would require a vote of the people.”
School officials hope to have the design work this summer and construction happen in 2013, if the funding is approved.