The Skagway School District would lose $200,000 in state funding — almost 20 percent of this year’s state contribution — under the governor’s proposed budget.
“Unless we hear differently, (the budget) is what every district needs to come to grips with,” Skagway School Superintendent Josh Coughran told the school board March 5.
His proposed reductions to next year’s school budget will include cutting in half the amount that each teacher receives for classroom supplies and cutting in half the travel funds for special education.
He also told the board that proposed elimination or reductions in state ferry service next fall would severely curtail student participation in activities and could jeopardize the basketball program.
The Legislature is reviewing the governor’s proposed state spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1, with final budget numbers still at least a couple months away.
By cutting expenses and using borough funds, however, Coughran said he believes the school can continue to provide a quality education.
The district’s proposed budget for the 2019-20 school year has $947,197 from the state and $1,572,996 in local funding. The borough assembly this spring will determine Skagway’s funding level for the 2019-2020 school year.
In order to account for the loss in state funding, Coughran proposed changes to ensure that the school district continues to provide a quality education.
“The solution that I feel comfortable putting forth at this point is shifting (specific operational costs) to the special revenue fund,” Coughran told the board.
The special revenue fund comes from the municipality and is divided into categories that include: student activities, food service, foreign language, technology, music, preschool and vocational education. Coughran is requesting $754,377 in the proposed budget.
Among the changes, the superintendent’s proposed 2019-2020 school budget will reduce the pay and benefits of maintenance staff . In addition, the school would pay the technology director from the technology special revenue fund, rather than the operating budget.
“These are all things we can pull off with what we have in the budget and the people that we have on staff,” Coughran said.
The maintenance cut is eased by the fact that the maintenance director will have vocational education responsibilities in the 2019-20 school year. That means the maintenance director will receive half of his salary from the operational budget and half from special revenue fund.
“That’s not going to cut it though. That isn’t going to make up $200,000,”
Coughran is also seeking to make cuts to other areas of the operating budget, including travel and supplies. With his plan, special education travel would be cut in half, superintendent travel cut by 75 percent and all school board travel would be eliminated.
“If I really look at the necessary things I need to be at, at least as the state level goes, I can think of two meetings,” Coughran said.
Teachers would be given half the allocation for supplies that they were given for the 2018-2019 school year. Currently, teachers receive $1,000 annually for classroom supplies.
“I think we can get it done for half of that,” Coughran said.
The education cuts are only one challenge that the school faces under Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget, Coughran said. Cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway would have longstanding effects on school travel.
The governor has proposed no ferry service after Oct. 1, pending a consultant’s review of how to reduce expenses and options to privatize the system. There is strong pushback from legislators, however, to stopping service for the winter season or making communities endure the uncertainty until fall.
Working on the possibility that there will be little to no ferry service during the next school year, Coughran said extracurricular travel will have to limited to engagements that the school can afford or realistically make. As ferry travel will be limited, students and school staff will have to rely on air and car travel
“I’ve been a coach and I’ve been an athlete. I know how important (extracurricular sports) can be for motivation to kids,” Coughran said.
With reduced ferry service, Coughran said regional events that Skagway students normally attend might have to be cut from the programs.
“For example, drama, debate and forensic only needs to compete in two different events to be eligible for state. Currently, our kids go to four different events,” Coughran said.
One of the biggest activities hit across the region looks to be basketball.
“I think there’s going to be a whole conversation about what 1A basketball looks like in the Southeast without a ferry system,” Coughran said. “It’s not realistic to maintain basketball, as we know it, without a ferry system.”
Coughran noted that students will still be able to attend events, but the school district may not be able to pay for them.
“We can’t pay for (extracurricular travel) on a budget that’s already asking the municipality for $200,000 and maxing out our operating budget,” Coughran said.
Looking forward, Coughran is going to reach out and advocate for the school on the state level and the local level. A letter-writing campaign is already underway in motion at the school to let the Alaska government know the impact in Skagway.
Coughran also said that the school is going to resist unfunded mandates from the state.
“If they say that we need to do something, we have to ask where the money is,” he said.