Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss speaks to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly at its Monday night meeting. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

City OKs $2.3M in additional ‘out-of-cap’ funding to school district

The funds will pay for deficits accrued during 2021-2023.

An additional $2.3 million is on its way to the Juneau School District after the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly voted Monday night to provide funds requested by the district to resolve deficits before the start of the next fiscal year.

The funds are considered to be “out-of-cap,” meaning it is funding outside of the city’s state-required funding cap of what it can contribute each year to the district. For more than a decade the city has funded the district to its maximum capacity while still abiding by the local “cap.”

The request was approved in a 6-3 vote, with Assembly members Wade Bryson, Maria Gladziszewski and Mayor Beth Weldon voting in opposition.

The $2.3 million approved by the Assembly Monday night are able to be accepted “out of the cap” as outlined in state law. CBJ Finance Director Jeff Rogers explained to the Empire costs associated with student transportation, student activities, and support for food and nutrition programs are generally able to be funded outside of the cap.

The funding is in addition to the district’s initial request of $2.2 million during the budget cycle last year and in advance of next year’s ask for $2.5 million, which will be decided during the upcoming weeks of this year’s budget cycle.

The deficits being resolved were accrued during the years 2021, 2022 and 2023 and are built from the costs to operate community schools (offering district buildings access to the community), RALLY (the district’s after-school program) and student transportation costs.

The funds will pay for the following:

— $1.3 million toward transportation deficits accrued in 2021-2023.

— $750,000 toward RALLY deficits accrued in 2021 and 2023.

— $227,000 toward community school deficits accrued in 2022-2023.

— $60,000 toward new wrestling mats for middle and high schools.

Superintendent Bridget Weiss spoke to Assembly on Monday night and in an interview with the Empire said she was “grateful” for the city’s support.

“The funding that the Assembly voted tonight to help us with our deficits that came during COVID-19 and these programs were not creating revenue at that time so that’s what caused the deficit,” Weiss said. “This really helps us get these deficits off the books because we are running them in a balanced way now, but we just don’t have enough fund balance because our budget is so tight with the lack of state funding there has been, so we’ve been carrying them and that’s stressful on our books. With these deficits resolved we will be in a really good place

Weldon expressed resistance to the amount of the request and the ask itself, and made a motion to fund $1.9 million of the ask rather than the full $2.3 million. She argued the school district needed to take some responsibility for “running yourself in the red.”

“I like to support the school district as much as I can, but in this case I think this lands on the school district,” she said.

Assembly member Wade Bryson expressed a similar position, arguing that funding $1.9 million instead of the $2.3 million still helps the school district, but also draws a line at the “fiscal responsibility” the district needs to address.

“If we just say ‘no harm, no foul’ and every time the school district runs into a deficit that we just take care of it real quick there’s a lack of responsibility that could be created by us not putting limitations,” he said. “If we continue to move forward as if there is an unlimited amount of funds, eventually we are going to run to the end of a cliff.”

Assembly member Waahlaal Giidaak Barbara Blake disagreed, saying the district is already operating on a “shoestring budget.”

“We know when we stress the school system out additionally, it just trickles down to the kids,” she said. “I think we have some really good, solid ideas for ways we can move forward with cost savings, and I’d like to see those come to fruition.”

Weldom’s motion to reduce the fund was ultimately shot down with Assembly members Christine Woll, Carole Triem, Greg Smith, Alicia Hughes-Skandijs, Blake and Michelle Bonnet Hale voting in opposition.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807.

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