The Petersburg School District did not include state funding when creating its budget for the next school year. So when Governor Mike Dunleavy cut one-time funding for Alaska schools in half, Petersburg wasn’t left scrambling like many other districts.
Erika Kludt-Painter is the district superintendent. She says they won’t cut programs or staff this coming year. But not knowing the state’s contribution until the summer is an on-going problem.
“Sustainability-wise, this is just not a good way to operate,” said Kludt-Painter. “You can’t plan for the future.”
The Governor’s veto cut nearly half a million dollars for Petersburg that the Alaska Legislature had approved.
Kludt-Painter says that the district prioritizes putting available funds into classrooms so the tight budget might not be visible to students and families. She says veteran staff wear a lot of hats, and sometimes do multiple jobs. When they leave or retire, it often becomes clear just how much they were doing. Kludt-Painter says those experienced staff members help keep expenses low — but it can come at a cost.
“I think we’re in danger of some burnout,” said Kludt-Painter. “[That’s] with staff, with administrative staff, with some of our teaching staff.”
This year, the Petersburg Borough upped its funding to the school district for the first time in 20 years. The district requested and received $3 million, which is an increase of more than one million dollars.
Petersburg School Board president Sarah Holmgrain expressed frustration with the Governor’s education veto last week on KFSK’s live talk show, Campus Connection. But she said she was relieved by the Borough’s willingness to increase their contribution.
“Thankfully, our local government has stepped up and listened to the community,” said Holmgrain. “But [they] also listened to our own school district administrators on what we needed, and they stepped up.”
Each year, the Borough receives roughly half a million dollars from the Secure Rural Schools Program, which it puts into a rainy day fund. The federal program subsidizes schools close to national forest land that could have made money through the timber industry. This year more than one million dollars of the Borough’s contribution comes from that rainy day fund. There is now just over three million dollars remaining in Petersburg’s fund.
In an email, Borough Finance Director Jody Tow told KFSK: “We are all aware that the current allocation of $1.1 million is not sustainable in the long term and that we will need to work at finding additional revenues for the future to continue this level of funding for our school.”
The School District will start working on its next budget in early spring, so the Borough has until then to come up with ideas for additional funding.