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Districts warn of layoffs without budget increase

Posted: March 28, 2012 - 12:01am

JUNEAU — School district officials are taking advantage of a trip to Juneau to outline their financial struggles to lawmakers as part of a plea for increased funding.

Eva Kinneeveauk and Mary Sage, both from North Slope Borough schools, told the House Finance Committee on Tuesday that their teachers have agreed to forego salary increases next year because of a projected $2.8 million budget shortfall next year.

The borough’s contributions make up about half of the district’s funds over the last five years. But even with more local support than most districts, Kinneeveauk said the state needs to chip in so their schools can build on recent gains.

“This is the first year in 11 years that we’ve had a principal stay for two years,” Kinneeveauk said. “We’re thankful for the borough’s funding of education and supporting our kids ... but we need some help.”

Rep. Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue, is a finance member whose district includes the North Slope. He said he takes the issue of school funding personally.

“No matter what community I go into in my district, I can find a bloodline relative,” he said. “This isn’t about my constituents. This is about my family.

“What this school district is doing with theme-based education bears great relevance.”

The committee is in the midst of hearings aimed at determining where funding problems lie and what additional money, if any, schools will need.

Leaders from Kodiak schools told the committee that layoffs are possible unless they get more money — concerns raised by other local education officials.

The hearings do not revolve around a specific bill, and co-chair Bill Thomas, R-Haines, said Tuesday that he remains unsure what proposal will ultimately advance through his committee and the House.

Education leaders, like those who testified on Tuesday, want a multi-year increase of what’s known as the base student allocation to help schools keep pace with inflation. The Senate earlier this session passed a measure that would provide automatic increases over three years. Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, has said that would help address cost-of-living increases.

Gov. Sean Parnell, meanwhile, has proposed $30.3 million in one-time spending to address increased energy and student transportation costs — demonstrated needs. He and some House Republicans also stress accountability for how money is being spent.

Educators remain in Juneau the rest of the week for a summit on school finances, potential changes to curriculum and a range of other issues.

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