Petersburg’s School Board met on Tuesday, March 7th to address a near-million dollar deficit in the upcoming fiscal-year budget. The board is building a budget for next year, and to keep up regular programming, they’ll need up to a million dollars to cover the shortfall from the last fiscal year.
This year’s expenditures were $800,000 over the district’s revenue. They took that money from the district savings account, which leaves the district without their usual financial cushion. School Board President Sarah Holmgrain says it’s time for a major adjustment — starting with seeking more help from the Borough.
“The local contribution hasn’t moved at all in twenty plus years,” said Holmgrain. “We’ve been able to offset that with grants and COVID money, yet everything costs more.”
There was a drop off in enrollment during the pandemic, so the district relied on the State’s Hold Harmless Provision. This three-year provision was started to help schools make up for lower enrollment. At present, the district is in its final year of support.
The district also received federal relief funding during the pandemic, but Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter says that money was used to pay high utility bills.
“We tried to be conservative, we tried to be careful and cautious,” said Kludt-Painter. “We don’t want to be going and asking for money that we don’t need, we’re trying to be aware of the community budget issues as well. And we’re just maxed out. It’s just with the Hold Harmless ending, the federal dollars from COVID ending — and then the astronomical expenses that we’re paying for heating, fuel, and electricity.”
Right now, the School Board doesn’t know how much funding the district will get from the Borough or the State. Administrators have travelled Juneau to petition lawmakers to increase the base student allocation, or BSA, which is the money the district receives from the state for each student. The BSA has remained flat for the last six years. Administrators have also encouraged Petersburg families to contact legislators to support increasing student funding.
If Petersburg schools can’t clear the million-dollar deficit, their final option is to reduce programming. The district must report their budget to the State by July 15th.