The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly and Board of Education held a joint work session Tuesday to discuss the school district’s initial funding request for fiscal 2021.
The school board requested from the borough an identical annual appropriation to that received for fiscal 2020, slightly over $10 million.
The district hopes to receive a total of $29.5 million in state resources, a similar amount to that given last year. Gov. Mike Dunleavy previously indicated he intended to cut education spending in the upcoming fiscal year. However, the governor later stated that he has no intention of reducing school spending. Dunleavy is expected to announce his preliminary budget by Dec. 15.
Overall, the district predicts a $44.9 budget for fiscal 2021, a $1.1 million decrease from the previous fiscal year.
The district predicts student enrollment to be lower next year, with 2,215 students compared to this year’s 2,253.
Despite the lower projected enrollment, the district expects expenditures to increase next year, due in large part to teacher salary raises and an increase in insurance costs. According to Superintendent Larry LeDoux, the district plans to cut $1.8 million in non-personnel spending in order to avoid requesting additional funds from the borough.
Assembly and school board members also discussed the school district’s fund balance for fiscal 2019, which was higher than expected, coming in at over $6 million. Responding to the large fund balance, school board members recently voted to return $1.6 million to the borough and appropriate $2.6 millon for maintenance projects.
Borough assembly members were pleased with the decision to return unused funding to the borough but expressed concern over the district’s proposed maintenance projects. All school buildings are owned by the borough, and according to state regulations, any maintenance projects over $25,000 must be paid for by the borough.
In recent years, the district has elected to use the fund balance to complete numerous maintenance projects due to the borough’s limited budget. These projects include $156,000 in maintenance for the Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium; $263,000 in Kodiak Middle School network upgrades; and a pre-k project totalling $305,000.
Assembly members were particularly concerned about a $500,000 project to replace siding for North Star Elementary School and a $300,000 project to create a new community gym in the building that housed the old swimming pool. In both cases, assembly members suggested that the school board should vote to transfer the money and sign a memorandum of understanding with borough staff, which would then execute the project.
Assembly Member Scott Arndt said that by transferring larger maintenance projects to the borough responsibility, the school district could ensure that projects are more all-encompassing. Arndt noted that North Star Elementary also requires window replacements, which could be undertaken alongside siding replacement if the project is completed by borough staff.
Initially, district staff indicated that the maintenance projects would have to be complete by June 30 in order to comply with state budget regulations. However, LeDoux said during the meeting that the project completion could be pushed to September.
Borough assembly members argued that transferring project responsibility to the borough would allow them to extend the time frame for completing these projects. Additionally, if the project completion exceeds the initial cost estimate, the borough would be responsible for covering the difference in cost.
LeDoux was not opposed to transferring project responsibility to the borough.
“I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have that kind of agreement. Who does the project doesn’t really bother me,” he said. However, he noted that the borough has “top-notch” staff members ready to lead projects, and he is concerned about delaying their completion.
“I’m not worried about working with the borough, I’m just worried about losing a season,” he said.
According to a planning document, the intended date of completion for the community gym project is Aug. 1.
According to Borough Manager Michael Powers, the borough and school district employ the same architects. He said it may be necessary for the borough to employ additional personnel to complete these assignments in addition to other planned borough projects.
The school board will vote on numerous requests to bid during a special meeting Monday. The requests to bid are for numerous maintenance projects, including the community gym, North Star Elementary siding replacement, auditorium design services and upgrade, and maintenance service contracts.
The district and borough staff intend to meet to establish a memorandum of agreement relating to shared projects between the district and borough. For any project transferred to the borough, the district’s bidding process will be void.