After more than two hours of public testimony and a flurry of amendments, the Anchorage School Board passed an operating budget for the coming school year just minutes before midnight Tuesday.
The amended budget retains security positions at Polaris K-12 and Chugiak, Dimond and Service high schools using the $150,000 provided to the district from the Permanent Fund Dividend education lottery and a 1% reduction in administration costs. The budget also provides full funding, $2.3 million, for the school district’s elementary gifted program called IGNITE through the district’s reserve fund.
Dozens of community members and students testified for over two and half hours Tuesday, most of them in support of the IGNITE program. Even Republican Rep. Sara Rasmussen, of Anchorage, who was an IGNITE student herself, dialed in over the phone to testify against the proposed cut to the program.
Throughout the meeting, board members remarked at the level of response generated by the proposed changes.
Before public testimony began Board Member Andy Holleman said he struggled to respond to an “avalanche of emails” on this topic.
“The amazing amount of testimony we heard tonight was so moving,” said Board Member Dave Donley at the end of the meeting. “Those kids were just amazing.”
There was some debate over sustainable funding for the IGNITE program.
“We are doing a stopgap. We are doing something we can’t sustain,” said Holleman of the use of the reserve fund to maintain IGNITE.
Board President Starr Marsett, the only member to vote against funding the program in the budget, said it’s likely that they will have to look at cutting the program again next year. “I’m just very concerned that we are prolonging something that we will have to do anyway,” she said.
Several changes will still be coming to Anchorage’s schools next year, unless the legislature approves more funding. South High School will lose one activity principal, elementary health instruction will be absorbed by P.E. and classroom teachers, and all schools will have a one hour late start or early dismissal day per week.
Two board members, Board President Starr Marsett and Board Member Dave Donley, ultimately voted against the amended budget.
The budget passed by the school board closes the nearly $20 million budget gap projected by the district and heads to the Anchorage Assembly for approval before being adopted by the district.