Faced with uncertainty surrounding education funding this year, the Anchorage School District wants the city to stop charging it for what ASD calls non-educational costs.
On any given day, Russian Jack Springs Park's trails, along with others around Anchorage, are used by residents to run, ski, and explore. When ASD uses them as part of a school function, however, the district has to pay -- to the tune of nearly nearly $45,000 a year.
ASD Superintendent Ed Graff wants to end city bills totaling more than $2 million a year for both trail fees and school resource officers from the Anchorage Police Department, as part of a cost-cutting effort he says could save the district money and ultimately save jobs.
With the state's share of education funding in limbo amid an extended legislative session in Juneau, ASD officials say every dollar the district gives to City Hall is crucial right now. Anchorage School Board president Eric Croft says having those funds could reverse some teacher cuts.
"That could be 30 teachers, that could make a tremendous difference across the district," Croft said.
With a $13 million budget surplus, Anchorage Assembly member Dick Traini thinks the city should foot ASD's bill on the disputed costs. He backs an Assembly amendment that would have the city stop charging ASD for school resource officers, property tax collection fees, and city trail fees.
"School resource officers, trails, and we charge them to collect taxes -- we want to try to reverse all of those," Traini said. "These teachers are so vital to our kids, and we have a commitment from both the superintendent and the school board president that every dollar given to them will be go to teachers."
While some on the 11-person Assembly agree there's room to increase funding, member Jennifer Johnston says her colleagues need to be careful how taxpayer money is spent.
"Our constituency are the taxpayers; (ASD's) constituencies is the schools, the students and the community," Johnston said. "We can show our concern over teachers, but the Assembly has no control on where that money is spent, it really is the school board's decision."
In Johnston's view, ASD should take up the issue as a budgeting question rather than shifting its costs.
"Whatever we add to their budget is up to their discretion on how they use it," Johnston said.
Johnston agrees with ending ASD's payment of trail fees, but says the city and the district should split the costs of school resource officers.
Originally SROs were paid for by a grant, then the city took over their costs, followed by the district. Currently the district pays for costs during the school year, with the city paying during the summer months.
The amendments will be discussed during a special Assembly meeting Monday.