Erica Kludt-Painter is the Superintendent of the Petersburg School District. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

Petersburg School District is going ahead with some staffing changes despite not knowing what it will receive in state funding next fiscal year. As Angela Denning reports, the administration says they’re tired of playing budget games.

There’s a little over a month left of school. The Petersburg district and dozens of others around the state have been waiting to hear what their state funding will be so they can plan for the next school year.

Petersburg Superintendent, Erica Kludt-Painter, told the local school board at their last meeting that the process sometimes feels like they’re just a pawn.

“We’re just kind of tired of feeling like we’re in the middle of that–kind of–political game right now,” Kludt-Painter said. 

School Board President, Mara Lutomski, agreed.

“It’s really unfortunate the games that are being played,” Lutomski said.

Governor Mike Dunleavy has proposed cuts that would equal $1.4 million for Petersburg. It’s unknown what the Legislature will do—if they’ll agree to the Governor’s budget or offer more money. One thing is certain to school district staff, the waiting is getting old. Kludt-Painter says it’s a real distraction.

“It takes us away from our mission, which is really tiresome,” she said. “It trickles down to kids, especially older kids are very well aware. That’s unfortunate; it’s unfortunate to have that stress trickling down through teachers, through our aides, and families.”

In some ways the school district has been on pause since January when Dunleavy started talking about cuts to education. He first announced that he would not pay out $20 million in one-time spending to school districts that the Legislature already approved. Then in February, he announced his scaled back operating budget.

Despite the uncertain funding, the Petersburg’s School District has decided to go ahead with some staffing decisions for next year. Kludt-Painter says they’re hiring a second fourth grade teacher to accommodate a growing student population at the grade school. They’re also replacing a special education teacher who has been hired as the elementary school’s principal.

“We’re moving forward, it’s time to move forward,” she said. “We can’t be held hostage anymore.”

They’ve also decided on a reduction to one position, the elementary school librarian. Long-time librarian, Mary Ellen Anderson, is retiring at the end of the school year. Kludt-Painter says they’re looking at having the middle and high school librarian, Carissa Cotta, run the two school libraries with the help of some aides.

“It will look different,” Kludt-Painter said, “but we think it can be as impactful and supportive as we want it to be.”

The Superintendent says these changes may not last forever but the district is trying to maintain a conservative outlook.  She says it’s always easier to add items back to the budget down the road than it is to take them away.