KODIAK -

While urban school districts have been debating the state's base student allocation, or BSA, it's also a hot topic in rural Alaska -- where some superintendents say it hasn't kept up with their districts' costs.

All hands are on deck in the Kodiak Island Borough School District, where educators are learning to do more with less. 

The rural district, which is made up of schools on the island and seven remote village sites, has had to be creative with its teaching because of cutbacks in recent years.

"In our rural sites we are probably spending close to $25,000 to $30,000 per student," said KIBSD Superintendent Stewart McDonald.

In McDonald's view, those figures are a result of increasing costs over time for utilities and employee benefits.

"There seems to be this idea that magically, mythically, that education systems shouldn't have the needs of these growth costs, and that we can just simply legislate that growth to stop," McDonald said. "A business would never run a factory in a remote site like Akhiok because it costs too much to get raw goods and services there, and distribute and ship out."

Some 400 miles away, in the Yupiit School District along the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, the cost concerns are the same. Superintendent Kim Langton says the high prices are part of effectively reaching and teaching kids.

"We believe it's important for these people and their heritage and their feeling of who they are, that it is valued and it is valuable," Langton said.

Heritage is one reason these far-flung school leaders think Alaska's BSA -- the amount the state pays school districts annually for each student they educate -- should be inflation-proofed or changed to acknowledge an increase in costs.

"Two hundred dollars would just barely keep us on a catchup," McDonald said.

Previous BSA increases have had marked effects in the classroom.

"We had three years in a row an increase in the base student allocation, and three years in a row we were able to get a gain in ground of making strong achievement with students," McDonald said.

With state lawmakers only proposing moderate BSA increases, however, more may be needed to keep all of Alaska's schools thriving. 

McDonald says over the last few years he's had to cut 20 percent of staff in Kodiak to adjust for higher costs. He is urging lawmakers to study school district budgets statewide to see how those costs directly impact a classroom.