Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, speaks during a news conference in late April. Juneau School District leaders share mixed reactions about the the Alaska State Legislature passing a budget that includes a $174 million one-time boost to public school funding, and being fearful that the increase will soon be vetoed by the governor. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, speaks during a news conference in late April. Juneau School District leaders share mixed reactions about the the Alaska State Legislature passing a budget that includes a $174 million one-time boost to public school funding, and being fearful that the increase will soon be vetoed by the governor. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

District leaders give one-time funding boost an incomplete

Mix of relief and fear of potential veto greet increase included in budget.

After what one lawmaker characterized as “the weirdest session,” Juneau School District leaders are torn between being excited about the Alaska State Legislature passing a budget that includes a $174 million one-time boost to public school funding, and being fearful that the increase will soon be vetoed by the governor.

Last week the Legislature passed an increase to state education funding which equates to an 11% one-time increase in education spending, or $680 in additional funds per enrolled student.

Though the funding has been celebrated by many legislators, there’s still a chance it could be lowered or vetoed altogether by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Jeff Turner, a spokesperson for Gov. Mike Dunleavy, said the governor is aware of what funding was passed by the Legislature, but said the bill has yet to be transmitted to his office and Dunleavy has not reviewed it.

“He’ll take a look at it, but he has not indicated any position on the funding at this time,” he said. “He’s acknowledged in the past that inflation is creating pressures on district budgets, and some increase has probably been needed.”

The governor has to sign the budget before the fiscal year begins July 1, which means any line-item vetoes or changes must be done before then.

If it stands, the funding increase would surpass the Juneau school board’s expectations, and the amount of state funding included in the district’s budget for next year.

Juneau School District Board of Education Vice President Emil Mackey said he’s “extremely pleased” to see the funding passed by the Legislature come in higher than anticipated by the district, but said he would advocate that the district refrain from spending the extra funds right away.

“I think we should reserve it for next year in case it’s not renewed,” he said. “I do want to make it clear that I’m very happy that they passed the BSA increase — my problem is that it’s a one-time thing and not a permanent increase because until it’s permanent, we can’t really budget for the future.”

Mackey said he doesn’t see the logic in making it one-time funding and is already concerned about having to build next year’s budget off uncertain funding. He said he thinks there is a “very real possibility” that the funding gets vetoed by Dunleavy.

“Let me put it this way — right now Governor Dunleavy is term-limited after this year, so he can veto it and he really doesn’t have anything to lose unless he’s thinking about running for a higher office,” he said. “The legislators get to pass this and go back to their homes and say, ‘We passed a BSA increase,’ and they get the benefit of saying they voted for the increase knowing the governor is going to veto it — that’s my biggest fear.”

Juneau Education Association president and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé teacher, Chris Heidemann agreed.

“Alaska has one of the strongest governor’s positions in the country, that line-item veto that he has is incredibly powerful,” Heidemann said. “He has made it clear that his priority is paying PFDs to individual citizens, so I’m not going to bank on that money being real until it gets past his veto.”

Heidemann said if the one-time funding doesn’t come through, he worries that the district will be forced to begin cutting down on staff which would result in larger classrooms and will negatively impact the quality of education for students.

“You’re going to be looking at a skeleton crew running the school district next year if that happens,” he said.

Heidemann added that while he’s glad that an increase could be on the way, he was hoping for a larger and permanent increase.

“Well, I’m glad they did something, but it’s still really disappointing to see one-time funding because that just perpetuates the cycle,” he said. “It feels like every year we have to go through our budgeting process here not having a clue what our baseline is.”

Incoming Juneau School District Superintendent Frank Hauser, who currently serves as the superintendent for the Sitka School District, said he’s “thankful” to see the increase passed by the Legislature.

“The additional funding will have a significant positive impact on programs and opportunities offered for students in schools across Alaska,” he said, noting he is optimistic that it will be passed by the governor.

Hauser, who is expected to start in his position in July, said he already has his ferry booked to head to the capital city with his wife, and said he is excited to begin advocating and talking about education in his new position in Juneau soon.

Rep, Andi Story, a Juneau Democrat, told the Empire last week that a permanent change to the BSA formula is a primary goal next year and meanwhile said she can’t predict what Dunleavy will do.

“Hopefully we’ll stick to the $680 in one-time money which, as everyone says, is a historic increase,” she said. “But still it means when they start the budget process (for next year) in November they’re going to have to minus that one-time money.”

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

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