$20M funding cut will hit schools that have already spent funds on teachers

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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - A $20 million cut to education funding would hit schools across the state that had already earmarked the money for teachers, according to multiple Alaska school districts.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy presented his supplemental budget Monday that called for around $130 million to be spent on earthquake relief while cutting $20 million in one-time education spending.

Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Donna Arduin, told the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday morning that the OMB had been asking departments to find money that had not been allocated yet for Fiscal Year 2019 to balance the books, especially with the need to spend state money for earthquake relief.

"It is my contention that school districts and other entities seeking money or expecting money from the state should not be anticipating spending money that has not been allocated to them." said Arduin.

Sen. Donald Olson, D - Golovin, asked Arduin how much communication had gone on between the OMB and the school districts across Alaska regarding the proposed reduction in education spending. Arduin answered that the OMB had spoken to departments but not the school districts themselves.

Fairbanks Republican Sen. Click Bishop said while the money may not have been distributed, “those schools, I’m sure they would have that money prioritized.”

According to data from the Department of Education and Early Development, the Anchorage School District was expected to receive close to $5.8 million, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District was looking for $2.6 million, while the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District would receive $1.4 million.

Catherine Esary, a spokesperson for ASD, said that $2.5 million went toward paying for 25 teachers at the beginning of the year whose positions had been cut for lack of funding. The remainder of the funds were used to partially fund the contract settlement with the Anchorage Education Association.

As to whether those positions would be cut again, Esary wrote that that decision hadn't been made yet: "Those are all decisions which will be made in conjunction with the entire budget planning, development, and approval by the School Board. And, it depends largely on what the State Legislature decides," wrote Esary.

In the Mat-Su, Superintendent Dr. Monica Goyette wrote in an email that the current year's operating budget was approved in Spring of 2018 and that teachers’ salaries are the largest expenditure in the budget.

“These contracts must be fulfilled regardless of mid-year revenue changes,” wrote Goyette. “Beyond the budget reductions that would need to occur for this school year, these cuts will have ramifications moving forward by creating fiscal uncertainty in future years.”

Dr. Lisa Parady, the executive director for the Alaska Council of School Administrators, said that $20 million was approved in 2018 and schools across the state had factored that money into their plans.

Lawmakers asked the OMB if the supplemental budget is not passed, when the $20 million would be paid out to schools.

“We will wait to see what the feedback is through the actions on this bill proposal,” said Arduin.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D - Bethel, a former chair of the Senate Finance Committee, then asked the OMB director about another $30 million that had been approved by the Legislature to be spent on schools starting July 1. Arduin said that questions about Fiscal Year 20 funding would be addressed in the governor’s budget, set to be released Feb. 13.

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