Kodiak Island Borough School District will receive a $1.9 million increase in funding from the State Department of Education and Early Development, due to a spike in the number of Kodiak special needs students that qualify for intensive services.
The district identified 86 students who require intensive services at the beginning of the year. Of those, 81 were recently approved by the state, leading to the additional state funding. Intensive-needs students qualify for 13 times the regular student allocation from the state. In total, the district received $31.6 million from the state for fiscal year 2020.
Superintendent Larry LeDoux said the increase is unusual and unlikely to ever happen again. Typically, a winter adjustment leads to a reduction in state funding, he said.
The number of intensive-needs students in Kodiak has increased dramatically in recent years, growing from the lows 50s in the 2017-2018 school year, to 64 last year, to 81 this year. The district intends to appeal the decision on the five students denied intensive-needs status. If the appeal is approved, the district stands to gain hundreds of thousands of additional dollars from the state.
Intensive-needs students include those who require the assistance of a full-time aide or other special services, such as psychological services, speech therapy, occupational therapy or physical therapy.
“(Intensive-needs students) generate money, but they use money too,” LeDoux said. Of the funding gained by the district, around $600,000 will go toward salaries for positions supporting special education students in the district, including aides and special education teachers.
According to Geoff Smith, district director of special services, the district still has four vacancies for positions serving special-needs students, including a physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech pathologist and school psychologist.
“If we could fill more right now, we would hire more beyond that,” LeDoux said.
But even after covering the costs of hiring additional staff, the district has $1.3 million in additional funding, which it intends to spend in the upcoming year.
In a board of education work session on Monday, District Finance Director Sandy Daws presented a list of budget items to allocate the additional funding. These include $635,189 for salaries and benefits to cover additional positions added for increased special education students. That amount also covers expenses for substitute teachers due to a higher-than-normal rate of absenteeism among the district’s teachers.
Remaining items include numerous maintenance projects throughout the district, most of which are not directly related to the special-needs student population.
Among the projects are $300,000 in additional funding for utility costs. Daws said the district is likely to exceed original funding allocations for fuel, electric and snow removal bills due to the colder-than-normal winter and the large amount of snow in January.
The list also includes $150,000 for elementary school intercoms and $100,000 for middle school intercoms; $100,000 for a driver’s education vehicle for the Kodiak High School drivers ed course and other career and technical education equipment; $100,000 for new tractors for the district maintenance department; $50,000 for professional development; $50,000 for an English Language Acquisition curriculum; $50,000 for a fire system upgrade in the auditorium; $25,000 for new equipment for the auxiliary gym expected to be completed this summer; $25,000 for a condition survey of the swimming pool; and $116,000 for the district’s 2022 repair and renewal list, which includes repairs to windows, doors, playgrounds and lighting in various district facilities.
“This is very rare, so it gives us an opportunity to take care of the things that we need to,” LeDoux said on the funding increase. However, he said the unpredictability in the number of intensive-needs students makes the district’s budget process more volatile.
“We just don’t know who will be here from year to year, so it’s very dangerous to predict the budget for these kids,” he said. “It makes it really hard on our system. This year, we got a lot of these kids … It stresses our system until we catch up.”
If the district overestimates the number of intensive needs students, they may lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding next year, so it’s important to keep estimates conservative, LeDoux said.
Despite the influx of state funding, the district will not reduce its funding request from the Kodiak Island Borough, which provided $12.5 million for fiscal 2020. The borough is scheduled to begin discussing the budget on Feb. 15.
“We can’t really use (the additional funding) for operation the following year or we create another problem down the road,” LeDoux said, noting that if they reduce their request this year, they may struggle to receive the amount they need from the borough the following year.
The district is predicting 30 fewer students next year due to Kodiak’s population loss, which will lead to a reduction in state revenue.
The board of education is expected to vote on the proposed budget items during their next regular meeting, scheduled for Feb. 17.