UCSD Proposes Status Quo Budget At $7.9M, As State Education Funding Remains Uncertain
As the state considers deep cuts to public education funding, the Unalaska City School District (UCSD) is counting on growing enrollment and local support to cover its budget for fiscal year 2020.
Superintendent John Conwell presented the district's $7,867,695 proposal at a school board meeting last week, saying that figure represents a five-percent hike over this year's budget.
"We think it's a modest increase," said Conwell. "It's based primarily on our increased enrollment, which is the ray of sunshine in all of this."
The district is projecting 425 students will attend Unalaska's schools next year, which would top this year's record-setting enrollment by four kids.
While UCSD officials can't pinpoint why the student body is growing so much, more kids mean more state funding.
Conwell said that's encouraging, especially in light of Gov. Mike Dunleavy's proposal to slash education spending by 23 percent.
It's still unclear if Dunleavy's plan will move forward, but Conwell said the district is hoping the extra money from enrollment will help head off any cuts at UCSD.
"There were really no discussions — or no substantive discussions — of possible areas to cut, other than a general consensus that we don't want to cut anything from the classroom," said Conwell. "We don't want to cut teaching positions. We hope it doesn't come to that."
The district is also banking on continued support from the City of Unalaska to bolster the $4.3 million it's expecting from the state.
Business Manager Danielle Whittern said UCSD is asking the city for $3.2 million for its general fund.
"Since 1992, the city has fully supported the school district to the cap," said Whittern. "Plus, they fund the preschool, community schools, and food services [programs]."
Those additional programs fall outside the district's general fund and are unrestricted by the state-imposed cap. UCSD is asking the city for an extra $1.1 million to fund those programs in fiscal year 2020.
"We have a great district, and we couldn't be doing it without the help of the city," said Whittern.
Federal funding is also expected to make a modest contribution to UCSD's general fund. And if all the money comes through, Whittern said the district should be able to maintain the status quo at Unalaska's schools.
She said the budget's five-percent hike would largely pay for scheduled salary and benefit raises to staff members, unavoidable increases to utilities and insurance, and in-house maintenance projects aimed at upgrading the schools' boilers, pipes, and lighting.
The school board unanimously advanced the proposal to a second and final reading next Thursday, March 21. But district officials said they'll almost certainly have to revise the budget after the Legislature approves the state's financial plan.
By statute, lawmakers have through April to finish Alaska's budget, though they're expected to go into an overtime special session.