(Juneau Empire file photo)

Letter: State bears much of the blame for school district’s deficit

Although mistakes were made in calculating the Juneau School District’s budget this year, I believe much of the anger is misplaced.

Rebecca Braun wrote in an Anchorage Daily News editorial, “Why do we have a better funding plan for Alaska’s prisons than its schools?” (Jan. 22, 2024), “While legislators seem to accept the concept of inflation-proofing for road maintenance, and our prison system and fisheries management, when it comes to our schools, they balk: the BSA, the foundation of the K-12 budget, was frozen from fiscal year 2016 to 2024, when it was raised by a half percent – it was 1% until Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed half the increase.”

According to the Alaska Council of School Administrators, “The administration’s veto, combined with prolonged flat funding, historic inflation, and increasing costs in health care, transportation, operations, and maintenance, results in a loss of purchasing power that schools cannot sustain while keeping achievement high and meeting accountability requirements such as the Alaska Reads Act. Adjusted for inflation, schools need an increase of $1,413 in the BSA to match inflation since FY17.”

If the state had inflation-proofed the BSA yearly, the Juneau School District would be much closer to a balanced budget and most proposed dramatic cuts would not be necessary.

A recent article in the Anchorage Daily News (Jan. 21, 2024) stated; “Facing $98M deficit, Anchorage School Board begins to narrow down potential cuts.” So, Anchorage, with about nine times Juneau’s population, is facing a K-12 education budget deficit more than ten times the size of Juneau’s. I have heard other Alaska school districts are also facing budget crises.

This appears to be a statewide school funding crisis! I suggest we redirect our frustrations to convince the Governor and skeptical legislators that inflation-proofing the education base student allocation is long overdue.

Gov. Dunleavy could help alleviate this problem by submitting a supplemental BSA inflation increase to the Legislature. It could include a statement that assumed school districts’ efficiencies were overestimated.

Mark S. Johnson