School district counts on lawmakers, city to increase funding

Posted: Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Juneau School District, like other districts around the state, has built next year's budget on Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposed increases in funding.

The district figured that a Republican-led Alaska Legislature would look favorably on a Republican governor's proposal, Juneau School Board President Mary Becker told Juneau Assembly members at a joint meeting Wednesday.

Without that new money, the district would be looking at severe cuts to staff, Business Manager Gary Epperson said.

The district's budget also assumes the city will give $547,000 more than last year in a voluntary contribution to the operating fund, and a further $341,200 for the community schools program and after-school activities.

On top of that, the city will have to give the district $392,000 more than last year in its state-mandated contribution because local property values have gone up.

Some city funding for schools is mandatory; some is voluntary.

Proposed Budget

Number of students: 5,322.

Proposed state revenue: about $26 million.

Proposed city revenue: about $19.7 million.

State share of the operating budget: 56 percent.

City share of the operating budget: 43 percent.

District's fund balance and other: 1 percent.

Average elementary class size: 25 students.

Average middle school class size: 31.5 students.

Average high school class size: 31.8 students.

It's too early to say what the Assembly, which hasn't discussed the city's budget, will contribute to the schools, said Mayor Bruce Botelho.

Coming up with the funds to meet the state-imposed limit on voluntary local school funding, called the cap, "is always a challenge," Botelho said after the meeting. "This year will be no exception."

City Manager Rod Swope said it would be "very unlikely" the city will fund the schools to the cap unless the Legislature covers increased payments to city employee retirement funds.

Public retirement funds have been depleted by poor returns in the stock market. School districts and municipalities must pay more into them to gradually make up the losses.

The city's added retirement-fund costs are about $1 million next fiscal year, which will be built into the city budget, Swope said. If state money covers that, the local money would be freed up for other purposes.

The Assembly has been sympathetic to education and would be interested in using the freed-up money to fund schools, he said.

Botelho said there's a "high degree of optimism" that lawmakers will approve Murkowski's requested school funding.

Murkowski's proposal would add about $2.3 million to the Juneau schools, and it would allow the city to increase its voluntary funding by $547,000.

The district's operating budget, with the increases, is nearly $46 million.

But Botelho said there could be trouble if the governor's proposal fails.

"I think people need to understand the severity of the situation if that legislation doesn't pass," Botelho said.

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