FY18 school budget approved with hopes for future revisions
On Tuesday, April 18 the Nome Public Schools Board of Education met for a special work session in the Nome Elementary School library to approve the budget for fiscal year 2018.
The fourth and final budget draft was presented to the board at the April 11 school board meeting. It was approved during last Tuesday’s special work session, although the board expressed hopes that they would have the opportunity to revise the budget, possibly more than once over the next few months as more funding sources are hopefully secured.
But as of now, this budget, which has been deemed the “worst case scenario,” is the approved budget. This budget factors in the elimination of the Nome Youth Facility, the Base Student Allocation funding cut at the state level by 5 percent, and the City of Nome appropriation budgeted at $2.46 million – a $450,000 increase over FY17.
Even with the assumption that extra funding will come from the City, if the worst-case scenario takes place, then major cuts will still have to happen. All the fat has been trimmed, so to speak, from reducing utilities to eliminating all but essential contracted services, that the only place left to cut from is the staff. The approved budget for FY18 as it stands now will eliminate four full-time certified staff and 10.3 full-time classified staff, including seven aides, one half-time social worker, and 2.8 support staff positions.
Superintendent Shawn Arnold gave a legislative update during the special work session. If legislators adhered to their 90-day deadline, which was approved by voters in a 2006 initiative, they would have finished the final state budget and wrapped things up in Juneau by midnight, April 19.
As of press time on Monday, April 24, state lawmakers are creeping into the second week of legislative overtime and it looks like they will extend into the maximum amount of days in session, which is 121 days as set by the state constitution.
Superintendent Arnold explained the various bills that are on the table at the state level, including income taxes, a school tax and a fuel tax, which may generate extra revenue for education funding, but do not seem very likely to pass through the Senate. There are even more creative proposals from lawmakers, including a PFD lottery or an education lottery.
Senate Bill 96, or the “omnibus” bill, was another highly debated piece of law, especially as it concerns Nome’s school district. Superintendent Arnold explained that if passed, SB96 would originally have forced Nome-Beltz High School and Nome Elementary School to combine into one building. The language of that bill has since been changed, so that it does not appear to directly target Nome Public Schools.
While much optimism is still present within the school district, mainly from the assumed extra help from the City of Nome, if state lawmakers push their extended session into the absolute final days without any passed legislature that will improve the budget, then things could get dicey for NPS.
The state legislature has until June to decide their final budget, while the school board only has until May 15 to notify staff if their positions are cut. This puts the district in a tricky situation if it turns out that they have to let go of staff that could potentially be kept on.
At the close of last Tuesday’s special work session, Superintendent Arnold clicked to his ending power point slide, which showed a painting portraying Luke Skywalker staring off into the distance over the numerous moons of Tatooine, from Star Wars: A New Hope.
“This is a budget based on hope,” said Arnold, giving a hint of farce to an all-too-real situation. Although the budget is approved, there is still the hope that extra funding from the City and state level will mean positive revisions and the reinstatement of many lost positions.
The school board meets next on Tuesday, April 25 in the Nome Elementary School library.