Nome Public Schools prepares for further belt tightening
On Monday, April 3, parents, teachers, school staff and community members gathered in the Nome Elementary School commons to discuss Nome Public School’s shrinking budget.
Superintendent Shawn Arnold led the discussion, highlighting the main formulas used to calculate the budget and explaining how NPS ended up in its current situation. NPS has already cut their FY18 budget by $1 million, and more cuts are expected to come.
At the last school board meeting, the third draft of the Nome Public Schools FY18 budget was presented to the board. That draft included cuts of several staff members, non-essential services, summer school programs, textbook purchases and much more. Since that meeting, several things have happened at the state level that will affect the district budget. For example, the Nome Youth Facility may be closed, which would eliminate a large amount of federal funding provided to the district. Also, the state Senate Finance Committee decided early this week to cut base student allocation, BSA for short, funding by 5 percent across the board.
BSA funding is a set number that is determined by the state and awarded to each school district based on their enrollment numbers. Basically, districts with fewer students receive less money while larger districts receive more money. Although it sounds like a fair formula, Superintendent Arnold explained that funding across the state is disproportionate when it comes to rural districts versus districts on the main road system. A cut of $10 in Anchorage can be like a $20 cut here in Nome.
The combination of the Nome Youth Facility loss and the BSA funding loss, as well as other small grants and stipends that may be cut, means the school district is expecting another loss of $1.2 million in revenue – on top of the cuts that have already been proposed.
To make things worse, the timeline for final decisions is short. The final budget draft will be presented to the board at the April 11 school board meeting, and the board must finalize the budget by the end of the month. State law requires a balanced school budget, and since NPS is a municipal school district, the budget must also be presented to the city and approved.
The district is seeking help from the City in these tight times. The past two years, the City of Nome has given 61 percent of its maximum allowable amount to the district, or $2.01 million of a $3.25 million maximum. While the City could potentially award the district the full amount of $3.25 million, making up the $1.2 million gap in the budget, the district is not asking for the full amount. Superintendent Arnold explained that to jump from 61 percent to 100 percent contribution would be an unrealistic expectation. Not to mention, the City must have the money available.
Instead, the school district is thinking of ways to be “innovative” in their budget solution, and preparing for the worst-case scenario. Some innovative solutions to reduce the budget include combining classrooms of different grades, increasing class sizes, reducing transportation, reducing the number of school days and privatizing further positions. Other solutions, which were less popular, include options like eliminating athletic programs altogether.
As things are not finalized yet, parents and staff members were encouraged during the meeting to reach out to their elected officials at the state and city level and ask for support. Superintendent Arnold provided talking points on a half-page paper to the audience members, printed on the opposite side with contact information for Senator Donny Olson, Representative Neal Foster, and Nome City Council members. A copy of the latest draft budget was also available for the audience, although only 20 copies were printed, in black and white – another reminder of the school’s lack of resources as color copies are expensive.
In an interview with the Nome Nugget earlier on Monday, Superintendent Shawn Arnold expressed his hopes for a good turnout from the community at the Monday night budget discussion. “Our school district and our schools belong to the community. If the community’s not engaged - if they don’t express and voice their beliefs, if they don’t express their concerns with elected officials, both locally with the city council and with our state legislators that represent us for Nome, then it’s just going to make the cuts easier, because there isn’t any concern.”
While many concerned community members were in attendance at Monday night’s meeting, there were still many open chairs. Only time will tell if community members, parents and staff have taken the time to reach out to their elected officials and attempt to make an impact on state and local budget decisions that affect the schools.
After the April 11 board of education regular meeting, the school board will then meet in a joint session with the Nome City Council on April 12 to discuss the budget and the city’s intended contribution. “When the state is taking a big cut, this is the time when we’re asking the city to step up,” said Arnold. “To not force us to balance the budget on the backs of kids.”
The Nome Common Council meets next on Monday, April 10 at 7:00 p.m. Public Comments are heard at 7 p.m., followed by another public comment opportunity at the close of the meeting.
Nome Public Schools Board of Education meets next on Tuesday, April 11 at 5:30 p.m. Public Comments are heard at the beginning of the meeting, followed by another public comment opportunity at the close of the meeting.