As the Anchorage School District begins to talk about its budget going into next year, district officials say they’re facing a deficit of more than $67 million.
ASD finance officials discussed the district’s financial outlook during Monday night’s school board meeting. Jim Anderson, the district’s chief financial officer, said the district gets its money from the state through what’s called a base student allocation — or a dollar amount per student. Since 2017, that amount has been stagnant, and enrollment has declined.
“So this reality of flat funding coupled with routine inflationary cost increases is the main reason we have a deficit going into next year,” Anderson said.
The most recent district budget totaled roughly $565 million. The district projects that revenues will decline by about $20 million next year while costs will rise by about $47 million.
Superintendent Deena Bishop said the district has been spending more than it receives in revenue for about five years, but that’s largely been because of federal grants that have helped to pad the budgets. For instance, over the last two years, the district received more than $60 million from the CARES Act, which Bishop said was used to keep learning as accessible as possible during the pandemic.
“That’s literally today why we have 270 teachers that remained with us and other staff to keep class sizes low,” Bishop said. “We utilized those funds to do that.”
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However, Bishop said, the district likely won’t be able to count on that type of funding moving forward.
“It’s one-time money,” Bishop said. “You spend it and it’s gone. And so while some of those decisions were to keep the main thing the main thing, which is our students and their learning, we really do have to wrestle with what does that look like with all other expenses that are being asked of us.”
Bishop said that during her six years as superintendent, the district has worked to cut costs by closing two schools and consolidating several programs.
Bishop on Monday didn’t go into specifics about how the district would shave $67 million from its budget. She noted that the district’s biggest expense is staff, which is roughly 86% of the budget. She said tough decisions will need to be made to figure out what positions will be cut.
The district is scheduled to present its budget proposal to the school board in January. The board will then vote on it the following month.