Petersburg schools’ enrollment is down by about 40 students this year. Despite the drop, the district’s finances are doing okay, according to district administration. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

Four-hundred, twenty-eight (428) students are enrolled in Petersburg Schools this fall. That includes some students who have chosen to attend school remotely through video conference. But thirty-nine students in the district have decided to home school.

KP some:  (:07) “Some families have just made the decision that it works better for them to home school and again, no judgment, we understand,” said Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter.

Most of the home schooled students are in the elementary school. Only two percent of students in the middle and high school are homeschooling.

Those students do NOT count towards enrollment and each enrolled student is worth money from the state. Kludt-Painter says the loss of funding from the drop in enrollment is estimated to be about $145,000. ($144,548) this year. But she says despite that loss, the district is still doing very well financially.

“I just want to put a little–not a little a lot of–kudos out there to our amazing finance director, Karen Morrison. She has done an amazing job keeping us on track, keeping us in line and making sure we’re following everything we need to be doing and we’re in really good financial shape,” Kludt-Painter said.

The school district received $778,000 in Cares Act money from the borough. Administration used that money to help hire more staff to create smaller class sizes to meet state and federal recommendations for COVID mitigation measures. But like all other Cares Act funding that pool of money only covers costs through December 31.

“Which is always a little challenging for a school because that’s the middle of our year,” Kludt-Painter said. “It might work for other businesses, but we’re still only halfway through. So, we took a bit of a leap of faith there.”

Kludt-Painter says they still have Cares Act funding to spend before the end of the year. After that, there is some funding mystery. But some of the uncertainty is being countered by unexpected positives. Because of COVID, school districts were allowed to carry over a higher fund balance from last year to this year. Usually, that savings is capped at ten percent. Kludt-Painter says they were able to carry over the district’s leftover money from last year’s capitol project reimbursements through the state.

“And so we went ahead and put that in the general fund so that we could have that available and we didn’t have to just put it back into capitol,” said Kludt-Painter.

She says the food services program is operating in the black and able to provide free breakfasts and lunches this year. The free meals had been approved through December but the USDA announced last week that they plan to extend the program through the rest of the school year. The Petersburg district is waiting on guidance from the State of Alaska on how to proceed.

On Oct. 13, at the last school board meeting, board members voted to purchase a new water heater for the elementary school. The unit will replace the current one, which was installed in 1981. The heater itself will cost about $88,000 plus the labor. The school district will use money set aside for the project in its maintenance budget.

“It’s one of those things, if it fails we’re going to be in trouble,” Kludt-Painter said. “We won’t have hot water and heat and all those things so it’s very important.”

The district is researching some options for using remaining Cares Act funding including outdoor heating for the covered area at the high school or near the pool to help spread kids out or using some type of outdoor tents.

Any Cares Act money left over from the district would go back to the borough.