dollar bills closeupPetersburg’s School District is in better fiscal shape than many other schools in the state. That’s the message the superintendent brought to the school board at its last meeting.

Superintendents from around the state were in Juneau recently listening to the Governor and Department of Revenue talk about depleting state coffers from low oil prices. Petersburg Superintendent, Erica Kludt-Painter, says everyone is feeling the pressure. However, she says Petersburg is sitting better than many other school districts.

“We are actually not in an emergency situation,” Kludt-Painter says. “I sat with superintendents who are talking about schools closing and firing teachers and letting whole programs go, that sort of thing.”

The Sitka School District announced this week a projected $2.7 million shortfall and could have to lay off up to nine teachers and close their pool or arts center.

Kludt-Painter says Petersburg’s conservative approach to budgeting and careful planning and hiring in the past will now pay off. She says the district will likely not have to cut any positions.

“I mean we’re going to continue to scale back in our district,” Kludt-Painter says. “We’ll look at activity travel, we’ll look at professional development, we’ll look at supply budgets, you know, shaving back responsibly as we’ve always done.”

Even though staffing may stay the same, a large grant could be history. On the cutting block is a four-year grant that started last year that is worth $150,000 a year.

At the board meeting, Kludt-Painter told members that it’s frustrating.

“We’re told all the time to pursue funding so we did as a district,” Kludt-Painter says. “We didn’t hire a grant writer, we all pooled our resources and time and wrote this grant two years ago for $400,000 and we’ve followed every rule and every regulation and we’ve done it, done everything they’ve asked and they were just cut completely. Now, that’s not for sure that it will happen, as Ginger mentioned, but that’s the kind of slashing of things that is going on that’s really challenging for districts to be able to plan.”

But state funding cuts aren’t the only cuts coming to the school district. For the last several years, the district has received $1.8 million from the Petersburg Borough. Last year that equaled 18 percent of the district’s budget but the federal funding source for a third of that money is ending. The local municipality has received this annual payment once tied to logging revenue on nearby national forest land. However, Congress did not reauthorize the program last year.

School Board President, Jean Ellis, says the Petersburg School District predicted this day might come and worked with the borough to plan ahead.

“Rather than saying, really that’s timber receipts money earmarked for the school, the school should have it and spend it we said, ‘Uh-eh’ because we don’t believe this will keep coming forever we really want you to save part of it,” Ellis says, “and so that when we do come to when they’re not funding it which is what happened this year there will be some money set aside so we’re not falling off the cliff, that we can actually go down more gradually.”

Kludt-Painter says the district plans to continue working with the borough assembly and the borough manager Steve Giesbrecht.

“Steve and really the assembly has been very upfront and willing to work with us,” Kludt-Painter says. “I mean talking about kind of creating a little task force here, even this Spring so that we can have some parents and community members, business people involved in looking at the bigger, the bigger picture because it’s coming down the pike here so.”

The Alaska Legislature has about a month to come up with its operating budget which will detail exactly how much Petersburg and other school districts will be getting from the state this year.

Also at the school board meeting, the board voted to move their meetings to the second Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m.

They unanimously supported going forward with a bid proposal for 400 feet of new fencing near the elementary school. They also fully supported a bid proposal to replace the concrete stairs in front of the middle school.