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UCSD requests about $5.5 million in funding from City of Unalaska, including new support for student activities

Berett Wilber/KUCB

Facing a deficit and uncertain state funding, the Unalaska City School District has asked the City of Unalaska to increase its contribution to local public schools in fiscal year 2024, including dedicating $140,000 in new funding for student activities.

Superintendent Jim Wilson made the nearly $5.5 million request to the City Council this month, up from roughly $5 million granted for the current fiscal year.

In addition to new support for student activities, the request asks for the maximum general fund contribution allowed under state law. It also seeks money for three special revenue programs that have long received city support: food services, preschool, and the Community Schools program, which helps the district make school buildings available for public events.

“It’s a lot of money, no doubt about it,” Wilson told city councilors. “If we only look at it as a cost, there’s a challenge there. I guess for me, as an educator, it’s always an investment.”

Wilson said the district has already cut about $1 million in expenses this year, but costs are up for energy, insurance, and staff salaries and benefits. Meanwhile, school officials don’t know whether state lawmakers will raise Alaska’s education spending after years of flat funding.

For the portion of the request pegged specifically to student activities, Wilson said the district hasn’t increased its travel budget in a decade. Instead, it’s tried to absorb the rising costs of airfare and other expenses while maintaining travel opportunities for sports teams and groups like the band, world languages club, and tsunami bowl team.

Now, Wilson said the district is asking the city for help, because students can only do so much fundraising. He said the new city support would keep travel status quo, allowing students to go to competitions, conferences, and other off-island events important for a well-rounded education.

“The things they learn in activities — teamwork, citizenship, being a part of something bigger than themselves — those are the skills that we want them to have,” said Wilson. “That’s how we develop the future leaders of our community and other communities. I think that student activities have an essential place in a high-functioning school.”

Two high school students also testified before the council in favor of the funding, including senior Shelby Shaishnikoff.

“Without travel for educational clubs, I wouldn’t be up here, comfortable speaking to an audience. Or even get an internship at the job I worked this summer,” Shaishnikoff told councilors. “It’s really helped with my public speaking and becoming a leader. And I think it’s really important to fund activities in school to help people come out of their shell.”

Several city councilors responded with strong support for the district’s overall request. Councilor Alejandro “Bong” Tungul said Unalaska schools have a reputation for providing great opportunities for students — and he wants to keep it going.

“People envy our community — the way we’ve treated our kids,” said Tungul. “They are our future. We want to make sure they get the best education.”

Councilors are scheduled to vote on school funding at a meeting Tuesday night. They’ll also vote on funding for the Community Support program, which awards grants to local nonprofits.

For fiscal year 2024, eight organizations have requested a total of $1.5 million — about $62,500 than the council wants to spend, under its funding formula.

City of Unalaska

Applicants include the Museum of the Aleutians, Unalaska Senior Citizens, and Iliuliuk Family and Health Services. The organizations have said they would use the money for a variety of purposes — from outreach and programming to staff salaries and benefits.

Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson said the council is facing hard decisions about how to fund the schools, the nonprofits, and the city’s own operations. Officials are still hashing out the City of Unalaska’s roughly $32 million budget proposal, which is projected to run up a deficit of nearly $7 million.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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