Libraries will remain open but district position axed after hard choices made
The board of education passed the school district’s FY2014 budget Monday night, after several hours of heated testimony from concerned coaches, athletes, parents, and educators.
The $12,100,000 budget passed after the public demanded a controversial budget item calling for the elimination of Native Youth Olympics (NYO) or softball or baseball.
The board has been tasked with coping with flat funding for education at the state and city levels, and a declining student enrollment while at the same time absorbing escalating costs in insurance, energy and other expenses that are difficult to cut.
Backers of both programs spoke to the board and urged members to find another way to cut $7,500 from the budget. Backers also bemoaned the wording on the board’s agenda statement that appeared to pit the sports programs against each other.
Rhonda Wegner, the district’s activities director, told the board the programs were put on the chopping block due to the fact that the two sports programs were the last to be in-sourced and paid for by the district. She also said the district still showed a $15,000 deficit in the activities budget after cuts were already made to the sports travel budget and increases made to activities fees and other painful decisions.
“We have made cuts across the board,” Wegner said during the meeting, defending the proposal. “Every sport will take a cut and they’re going to feel it.”
Nearly three hours of public testimony convinced the board to reach into its dwindling reserves to cover the two programs, which are some of the cheapest sports the district supports. A breakdown of sports costs to the district’s budget shows NYO costs $11,507 and baseball $11,242. By comparison, basketball costs $68,820, the highest price paid, with wrestling coming in second with a cost of $28,160 yearly.
The lion’s share of the costs of sports comes from the travel budget.
“Hands down, transportation is killing us,” Wegner said.
With the nearest competitors over a hundred miles up the road or accessible only by ferry or airplane, high school sports teams have little choice in traveling great distances to compete against other teams.
The two sports were not the only cuts on the table before the budget passed.
Cuts to school personnel, including two teaching positions, the consolidation of the Hermon Hutchens Elementary and Gilson Middle Schools libraries, and dramatic changes to the breakfast program at the elementary school were also instituted by the board.
Sixth, seventh and eighth grade students from Gilson Middle School will be attending all classes at the elementary school next year as its current building next to the high school on Robe River Drive is torn down in preparation for the construction of a new $39 million facility.
Principals Rod Morrison and Chris Bennett said in a written statement to the board that consolidating the libraries was less than ideal but the pair agreed the proposal was workable for the two schools.
“All administrators have agreed to eliminate the district librarian position,” a letter signed by all three principals and district administrators said. “The person in this position would be non-renewed as he is a non-tenured staff member who may be let go for any/no reason.”
A late compromise suggested by Bennett will allow for a library aid at Valdez High School, which was faced with running its library with the school’s career advisor.
Emotions ran high amongst board members and attendees alike during the meeting.
The one million plus deficit was caused increases in insurance ($310,000) planned expenditures ($260,000) projected enrollment drop ($255,000), a 1 percent salary increase for personnel, guaranteed raises in the district’s “steps and columns” pay scale ($132,000) and projected energy increases of $175,000.